Brussels cancels New Year fireworks over terror threat

AFP file picture | Belgian troops patrol a street in Brussels on November 23, 2015 as the Belgian capital remains on a high security alert level

Authorities in the Belgian capital Brussels called off the city’s traditional New Year’s Eve fireworks display on Wednesday, citing fears of a militant attack.


On Tuesday, federal prosecutors said two people suspected of plotting an attack in Brussels on New Year’s Eve had been arrested during house searches in different parts of the country.

“Together with the interior minister, we’ve decided to not have the celebrations on Thursday evening,” Brussels mayor Yvan Mayeur told the state broadcaster RTBF.

The two people arrested, who were likely to appear in court on Thursday, belong to the notorious Kamikaze Riders, a motorbike club whose members are mostly of North African origin and whose bike stunts can be seen in various online videos.

At least one other Kamikaze Riders member, Abdelouafi Eloussaki, was investigated in the past for possible links to Islamic radicalism, but his former lawyer said no connection was ever found. However, Eloussaki's two brothers did go to Syria, where one was killed in action and the other badly wounded.

Heart of Paris attacks investigation

Abderrahim Lahlali, the lawyer for a deceased member of the Kamikaze Riders, said the biker group was founded in 2003.

"This is a group of youngsters from different   and that's important to know   nationalities, and different beliefs," Lahlali added.

Belgian police also detained another as yet unnamed person for questioning on Wednesday following a new search in the troubled Brussels neighbourhood of Molenbeek in connection with the November 13 Paris attacks, prosecutors said.

Belgium has been at the heart of investigations into attacks in Paris in which 130 people were killed.

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 coordinated 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.

Global jihadist threat

The security clampdown comes at a time of heightened fears about the global jihadist threat after a wave of attacks around the world, many claimed by supporters of the Islamic State group.

In New York City, where one million people pack into Times Square every year, officials said that 6,000 officers, some plainclothes, would be on hand to watch over celebrations.

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday said the security measures this year would be “more extensive than ever” and include more than 500 police trained in preventing terror attacks.

“We’ll have a huge number of police out on New Year’s Eve, including a lot of our new anti-terror force, the Critical Response Command,” he said.

In Muslim majority Somalia, often targeted by Islamists, the government has banned celebrations of Christmas and New Year for fear of attacks.

Europe has been particularly fearful of being targeted by jihadists that have snuck in as part of a wave of refugees fleeing war in the Middle East, particularly strife-torn Syria.

In Germany, which has welcomed one million refugees this year, many shelters have also banned firecrackers and pyrotechnics to protect asylum seekers from reliving the trauma of wars they fled.


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