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 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.
Authorities said on Tuesday that two men had been arrested during house searches in different parts of the country in connection with suspected plots to unleash Islamic State-inspired attacks in Brussels.
Belgium’s state security agency said the planned attacks had “the same style” as last month’s rampage in Paris that killed 130 people. IS 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.
The two people arrested, who were likely to appear in court on Thursday, belong to the Kamikaze Riders, a motorbike club whose members are mostly of North African origin and whose bike stunts can be seen in various online videos.
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.
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.
Police in Turkey have detained two suspected IS extremists over a suicide bombing plot during New Year’s Eve celebrations in the country’s capital of 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.