Belgium battles terror on two fronts on New Year's Eve

Belgium battles terror on two fronts on New Year's Eve

31st December 2015, Comments 0 comments

Battling terror on two fronts, Belgian police were holding eight people Thursday over an alleged New Year plot in Brussels and also arrested a tenth suspect over last month's massacre in Paris.

Both Brussels and Paris have cancelled annual New Year's Eve fireworks displays as soldiers and police ramped up security in European capitals over perceived terror threats.

"It's better not to take any risks," Brussels Mayor Yvan Mayeur said when he announced the showpiece event's cancellation late Wednesday.

Prosecutors said two men had already been formally charged with terrorism-related offences and police detained six more people Thursday for questioning over an alleged plot to strike "emblematic sites" in the Belgian capital during the year-end festivities.

They identified the pair as Said S., 30, and Mohammed K., 27. The men's lawyers told AFP their full names are Said Saouti and Mohammed Karay.

A source close to the investigation also told AFP that officials were trying to determine whether members of a motorcyle gang called the "Kamikaze Riders" were involved.

Six other people were detained following seven police raids in and around the Belgian capital in which computer equipment, mobile phones and "airsoft material" were seized, it added. Airsoft is a type of airgun.

An investigating judge will decide later Thursday whether to keep the six in custody or release them, the prosecutor's office added.

- 'Terrorist murder' -

Brussels has been on high alert since it emerged that several of the attackers involved in the Paris carnage on November 13 had links to the Belgian capital.

Prosecutors said Thursday they have arrested a 10th suspect over the attacks in Paris claimed by the Islamic State group that killed 130 people and wounded many more. They charged him with terror offences.

The Belgian national, identified only as Ayoub B., was detained on Wednesday during a raid on a house in the troubled Brussels immigrant neighbourhood of Molenbeek, a statement from the federal prosecutor's office said.

He has been charged with "terrorist murder" and involvement in the activities of a terrorist group, it said, adding that he will appear in court again within five days for a custody hearing.

Molenbeek is home to the Paris attacks fugitive Salah Abdeslam and has served in the past decades as a haven for jihadists.

Mayeur said Wednesday that fireworks and related events in the central square of Place de Brouckere had been cancelled because it was not possible to "guarantee that we can check everyone coming to the event" in the current circumstances.

Last year, some 100,000 people turned out to watch the traditional New Year's Eve fireworks display.

- 'Drink Champagne!' -

But the Horeca professional association of restaurants, hotels and cafes urged people to celebrate in a careful way.

"We must be vigilant but we must still open champagne and drink it!" Horteca President Yvan Roque said.

It is not the first time the New Year's Eve fireworks have been cancelled as the authorities made the same decision in 2007 because of another terror threat.

Officials said the plot revealed Tuesday was not directly linked to the wave of bombings and shootings on a Paris concert venue, bars, restaurants and the national stadium.

In Turkey, meanwhile, officials said two Islamic State suspects, reportedly both Turks, had been planning to stage suicide bombings in the centre of the capital Ankara, which is expected to be packed with revellers on the night of December 31.

Turkey has been on high security alert since October, when two suicide bombers blew themselves up in a crowd of peace activists in Ankara, killing 103 people in the worst attack in the country's modern history.

Moscow's Red Square, traditionally a place where people gather to ring in the New Year, will be closed to revellers on December 31 while Vienna has also beefed up security ahead of the celebrations.

The French capital also remains on high alert and has abandoned its fireworks display on the Champs-Elysees, although the traditional gathering on the famous boulevard will go ahead under tight security.

© 2015 AFP

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