World

Brussels cancels NYE celebrations, Turkey attack plots foiled with arrests

Washington: New Year's Eve celebrations have been cancelled in Belgium's capital, Brussels, due to fears of a militant attack, as the city remains on high alert following the Paris terrorism attacks in November.

Brussels cancels NYE celebrations

Security is tight in Belgian capital for New Years Eve, after the arrest of two in connection with a possible New Year's Eve attack plot.

Police detained six people during house searches in Brussels on Thursday as part of an investigation into an alleged plot to carry out an attack in the capital.

Meanwhile in New York, a 25-year-old man was arrested over an alleged attack on a Rochester restaurant on New Year's Eve.

Belgian soldiers patrol as tourists visit the Grand Place in Brussels.
Belgian soldiers patrol as tourists visit the Grand Place in Brussels. Photo: AP

Brussels mayor Yvan Mayeur told Belgian broadcaster RTBF public festivities planned in the heart of the city would not go ahead.

"Unfortunately we have been forced to cancel the fireworks and all that was planned for tomorrow [Thursday] evening and that would have brought a lot of people together in the centre of Brussels, following a risk analysis by the crisis centre," Mr Mayeur told Belgian broadcaster RTBF.

Belgium's state security agency said the planned attacks had "the same style" as last month's rampage in Paris that killed 130 people. Islamic State asserted responsibility for the Paris attacks.

"Together with the interior minister, we've decided to not have the celebrations on Thursday evening," Mr Mayeur said.

Belgian police conducting an operation in the centre of Brussels in November, 2015.
Belgian police conducting an operation in the centre of Brussels in November, 2015. Photo: AP

Police carried out searches at six locations in the Belgian capital and one just outside the city, seizing computers, mobile phones and equipment for airsoft, a sport involving guns that shoot non-lethal plastic pellets.

A judge was to decide later on Thursday whether the six detained people could be held further.

Police close streets near the Grand Place in Brussels in November. Police found material that could be used to make ...
Police close streets near the Grand Place in Brussels in November. Police found material that could be used to make explosives and handmade belts during a raid on a Brussels apartment on December 10. Photo: AP

Two Belgian nationals arrested earlier this week, named as 30-year-old Said S. and 27-year-old Mohammed K., are being held on suspicion of planning a terrorist attack, prosecutors said. A court on Thursday extended their custody for a month.

Both are members of the Kamikaze Riders, a Brussels-based motor bike group whose members are mostly of North African origin and carry out bike stunts which can be seen in online videos.

Family members of Korkmaz Tedik, a victim of bomb blasts on October 10, mourn over his coffin during a funeral ceremony ...
Family members of Korkmaz Tedik, a victim of bomb blasts on October 10, mourn over his coffin during a funeral ceremony in Ankara, Turkey. Photo: Getty Images

Some Belgian media say the group harbours Islamic State sympathisers and that the search for other group members had led Brussels to cancel Thursday night's planned firework display.

Two of the Paris suicide bombers, Brahim Abdeslam and Bilal Hadfi, had been living in Belgium. On Wednesday, a source close to the French investigation confirmed a report that said at least one man was suspected of having co-ordinated the attacks by mobile phone from Belgium as they were being carried out.

A Turkish bomb disposal expert investigates a suitcase at the scene of a blast during a peace rally in Ankara in October.
A Turkish bomb disposal expert investigates a suitcase at the scene of a blast during a peace rally in Ankara in October. Photo: Getty Images

Brussels last cancelled its New Year fireworks in 2007, when it was also on high alert after a plan was foiled to free Tunisian Nizar Trabelsi, convicted of plotting to blow up a military base.

It comes as security concerns plague New Year's Eve celebrations around the world.

In New York, a 25-year-old man was arrested over allegations that he planned to kill civilians in a New Year's Eve attack on a Rochester restaurant.

The US Justice Department said the man had been arrested and charged with attempting to provide material support to Islamic State.

"The FBI thwarted Emanuel Lutchman's intent to kill civilians on New Year's Eve," said FBI Special Agent in Charge Adam S. Cohen via a Justice Department statement.

"The FBI remains concerned about people overseas who use the internet to inspire people in the United States to commit acts of violence where they live."

The arrest came after US authorities said they were monitoring investigations overseas of alleged plots by Islamic State operatives or sympathisers to launch attacks over the holiday period.

"Security services are rightly worried that Islamic State and al-Qaeda will try to direct or inspire an attack early in the new year to follow up the Paris operation. The plan for an attack on Brussels' iconic grand market would be just such a spectacular assault," said Bruce Riedel, a former senior CIA Middle East expert and sometime policy adviser to US President Barack Obama.

While the officials said they have detected no serious plots inside the United States, they said suspected militants always engage in "chatter" about possible attacks at this time of year.

Indonesian police arrested three men with suspected links to Islamic State on Thursday, state media reported.

The arrests came as the US embassy in Jakarta issued an "emergency message" for US citizens warning of potential security threats at tourist beaches on the island of Lombok.

Police in Turkey detained two suspected Islamic State extremists over a suicide bombing plot during New Year's Eve celebrations in the country's capital Ankara, state media reported on Wednesday.

"They were caught before they had the opportunity to take action," the Turkish prosecutor's office said.

The raid underscored the sweeping security precautions in place across the world for holiday events beginning on Thursday. Nearly all major cities plan stepped-up police patrols and surveillance, ranging from London's fireworks display to New York's Times Square festivities.

The Ankara prosecutor's office said the men – both Turkish citizens – had staked out possible attack locations in Ankara. The state-run Anadolu Agency, quoting police and judiciary officials, said the potential bombing sites included areas near bars and a shopping mall.

Turkey's private NTV news channel, quoting security sources, said the two had "frequently" travelled to and from Syria, where IS holds territory and maintains its stronghold in the city of Raqqa. The report said security officials had been monitoring their movements for at least a month.

Turkish authorities said they seized a bomb-rigged vest for an apparent suicide attack, and a backpack containing an explosive device packed with ball bearings and metal shards.

Turkey, a NATO ally, had been a main pathway for IS recruits and supply lines, including oil smuggled from Syrian fields under the militants' control. Turkey has not joined the US-led coalition conducting air strikes against IS targets in Syria and Iraq.

But Turkish officials allow US warplanes to use a base near the Syrian border and have taken steps to tighten border controls.

In October, two suicide attackers detonated bombs outside Ankara's main train station during a peace rally, killing more than 100 people. Turkish officials claim the attack was linked to IS.

Reuters, Washington Post

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