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SILENT NIGHT

Citing terror threats, Brussels cancels its New Year’s Eve fireworks

By Svati Kirsten Narula

Authorities in Belgium announced today (Dec. 30) that the annual New Year’s Eve fireworks display in Brussels has been canceled due to threats of terrorism during the event. Evidently, the recent arrests of two men suspected of planning one such attack in the city did not assuage safety concerns. The Belgian prime minister alluded to new “information” as the reason for the decision, according to the BBC.

The two men arrested in Brussels yesterday were allegedly plotting to attack “symbolic targets” in the city on New Year’s Eve, but other details are sparse. Some news outlets, including CNN, have reported that the men are members of a biker gang called the “Kamikaze Riders” and were inspired but not directed by the Islamic State (ISIL). Even with those two suspects in custody, Belgian law enforcement cannot rest, as the country remains under scrutiny for its perceived “homegrown jihadi insurgency“—the perpetrators of the November terror attacks in Paris came from Belgium, and ISIL has reportedly recruited at least 500 Belgian residents.

Also today, authorities in Turkey said that the police arrested two men who may have been planning to carry out suicide attacks during public New Year’s Eve celebrations in that country’s capital. These suspects are believed to be affiliated with ISIL, according to Anadolu Agency, Turkey’s state-run news service, which refers to the terrorist group as Daesh.

Both suspects are Turkish nationals. Prosecutors in Ankara told the Associated Press that police found one explosive suicide vest, another bomb fortified with metal ball bearings and sticks and stuffed inside a backpack, plus additional bomb-making equipment at the house where the men were arrested. Prosecutors also determined that the men had “staked out” various target locations and had picked two places in Kizilay, Ankara’s central shopping district, to detonate the bombs. The streets of Kizilay and other central areas of Ankara, which is Turkey’s largest city after Istanbul, are typically crowded on the evening of Dec. 31 as revelers gather to celebrate the arrival of a new year.

Other major cities around the world are on heightened alert for threats to public safety during crowded celebrations scheduled for tomorrow night. So far, Brussels is the only one to have canceled or heavily modified events because of terror threats. In Shanghai, too, this New Year’s Eve will be a skeleton of what it was in 2014, though the Chinese city canceled its parties because of concern about a repeat of last year’s dangerous stampedes, not acts of terrorism. Still, the underlying motivation of fear for public safety is proving to be a powerful one this holiday.