The New Year’s Eve fireworks display that the capital city of Belgium is accustomed to will sadly be missing this year as the country’s fear of a terrorist attack has led to Belgian officials cancelling the tradition. The announcement came on Wednesday, just one day before the two members of a motorcycle gang who were arrested for plotting an attack in Brussels were scheduled to appear in court.
The two men were arrested during a raid operation carried out by Belgian police less than two months after the Paris attacks and claims from France officials that the attacks were actually planned in Belgium. The federal prosecutor’s office advised that the raid produced military-style uniforms, computers, and Islamic State propaganda. The authorities have intensified their investigation into radical groups and have since conducted additional raids. Brussels, Brabant to the north, and near Liège in the east were all sites of raids.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel appeared on the Belgian national broadcaster, RTBF, to announce the cancellation of the New Year’s fireworks celebration due to “a possible and credible threat.”
“In this uncertain situation, when investigations are under way and information arrives practically every hour… it seems to me the decision was correct and well-founded and I am in full agreement with it.”
There were originally six persons detained after the raids but four of the persons were since released. No weapons or explosions were found during the raids, and the prosecutors advised that the operation has no links to the November Paris attacks that left 130 dead. On Tuesday, the two men that were held were brought up on charges of plotting to attack the police and military personnel during a scheduled end-of-year holiday celebrations in Brussels’ Grand Place.
The two men were charged Tuesday with plotting to attack police and military personnel during end-of-year holiday celebrations in Brussels’ Grand Place. De Brouckère, which is nearby, was originally where the fireworks display was to take place.
The two men arrested are a part of the motorcycle group known as Kamikaze Riders, and until the raid they had drawn no significant attention to themselves. The other members of the group have denied that the arrested members are extremists. Only one of the men have been identified, and the unidentified male has reportedly been charged with “playing a lead role in the activities of a terrorist group and recruiting for terrorist acts.” Prosecutors have stated that the other male, Mohamed Karay, is facing charges of planning and “participating in the activities of a terrorist group.” Karay’s lawyer says his client has no criminal record and denies the charges, insisting that he is not radicalized. On Thursday a judge will rule on whether or not the two men shall remain arrested.
The Guardian gave further insight into the cancellation of the fireworks display when it wrote that the investigation and raids uncovered “the threat of serious attacks that would target several emblematic places in Brussels and be committed during the end-of-year holidays.”
The Belgian police have reissued outstanding warrants for four members of an extremist Islamic group known as Sharia4Belgium as part of the current investigations. In February, the four men, three of whom are thought to be in Syria, were sentenced in absentia and the leader was arrested. There has been no known link between those four men of Sharia4Belgium and the plot on Grand Place, though authorities suspect a link exists between the Sharia4Belgium and Kamikaze Riders.
In Paris, the usual New Year’s Eve fireworks has also been discarded but the tradition of the gathering at Champs Elysees will take place with extremely tight security. The mayor advised that for them the New Year would be greeted with a more reflective atmosphere.
All across Europe, security has been tightened as authorities continue to hunt down IS members and attempt to stop terror plots.
[Photo Courtesy of Geert Vanden Wijngaert/ AP Images]