Officials said on Tuesday that they had arrested a 31-year-old man living in a refugee home after two Chinese students reported being sexually assaulted in recent months near Bochum University
The suspect is described as being an Iraqi asylum seeker, who came to Germany in 2015 and lived with his wife and two children near the scene of the two attacks, state prosecutors said.
In August a 21-year-old student from China reported that a man had seriously injured her and attempted to rape her. Then in November, a 27-year-old student also from China reported that she was attacked and raped by a man.
Prosecutors accuse the man of attempted murder, rape and aggravated assault. The suspect has disputed the charges, according to prosecutors.
The decisive evidence that led to the man's arrest reportedly came from the second victim's partner. He noticed a man in the bushes near where the 27-year-old woman had been attacked and started taking numerous pictures on his phone, before the man ran away.
Police said these photos allowed them to identify the suspect living at the refugee home. The man was then arrested after a DNA test was conducted and linked him to both attacks. Police are now investigating whether he could be connected to other crimes.
The case has also raised the discussion of using DNA evidence found at crime scenes to determine characteristics of suspects, like hair, eye, or skin colour, to narrow down police searches. This is currently not allowed, but has also been brought up after the arrest of a 17-year-old Afghan teen in the rape and murder of a young woman in Freiburg.
Justice Minister Heiko Maas said on Tuesday he was open to further discussion about such use of DNA.
The case has for locals called to mind the so-called "uni-phantom" - a still unknown offender who abused 21 women near and in Bochum between 1994 and 2002. But police had quickly ruled out that it could be the same perpetrator.
German media reported previously that after the more recent attack in November, the Chinese consulate in nearby Düsseldorf had warned its citizens to "pay attention to their personal security, particularly in remote areas”, referring to "the current security situation in its area of responsibility" without going into more specific detail.
Meanwhile in eastern Germany, the trial process began recently for a young German couple who allegedly lured a Chinese architecture student to an empty apartment in May before repeatedly raping and leaving her to die from her severe injuries.
The brutality of the crime sent shock waves through both Germany, especially due to the fact that the mother and stepfather of the male defendant are police officers.
The trial is set to run until February and each defendant faces up to 15 years in prison.
Suspect arrested for sex attacks on Chinese students in west Germany 6 December 2016 DPA/The Local
Bochum: Irakischer Flüchtling (31) würgte chinesische Studentinnen mit einem „Werkzeug“ und missbrauchte sie 6. December 2016