ANKARA — With less than 48 hours left in 2015, Turkey today became the latest country to announce the foiling of a holiday attack plot, detaining two suspected Islamic State militants believed to be planning suicide bombings during New Year celebrations in the capital city’s heart.
“They were caught before they had the opportunity to take action,” said the office of the chief prosecutor of Ankara, Turkey’s capital.
The men were detained in a raid on a house in the low-income Mamak neighbourhood, where police seized a suicide vest armed with a bomb, a second explosive device that was fortified with ball bearings and metal sticks and concealed inside a backpack, as well as bomb-making equipment, according to the prosecutor’s office.
The two men, Turkish nationals identified only by their initials M.C. and A.Y., were being questioned by anti-terrorism police. The prosecutor’s office said the men had staked out possible locations in Ankara where they could carry out the attacks.
The state-run Anadolu Agency, quoting unnamed police and judiciary officials, said the would-be bombers had intended to blow themselves during holiday festivities at bars and a shopping mall in the central Kizilay district.
In Belgium, an investigation was continuing into what authorities characterized as a “serious threat” of holiday season attacks directed at police, soldiers and popular attractions in the capital city of Brussels. The arrest of two suspects was announced yesterday by the Federal Prosecutor’s Office, along with the seizure of military-style training uniforms, computer equipment and propaganda materials from the Islamic State. No weapons or explosives were found.
Brussels officials, however, were sufficiently worried about the remaining risks that Mayor Yvane Mayeur announced this evening that a New Year’s Eve fireworks display and related festivities planned tomorrow in the city centre were being cancelled.
Last year, Mayeur told RTBF French-language television, 100,000 people turned out, and in current circumstances, he said, “we can’t guarantee that we can check everyone”.
Tomorrow the arrested men, whose names have not been made public, are due to go before a magistrate, who will decide whether to hold them for another month. An official close to the investigation, speaking on condition of anonymity because the case is ongoing, told The Associated Press both suspects belonged to a motorcycle club,
the Kamikaze Riders, which is known for illegal stunts on public roads.
At least one other member of the Kamikaze Riders is known to have been investigated in the past for possible links to Islamic radicalism, but his former lawyer said today nothing was ever proven.
Today another police search linked to the Paris attacks was carried out in the Molenbeek area of Brussels, and a person detained for questioning, said Thierry Werts, a spokesman for the Federal Prosecutor’s Office.
In France, authorities were also clearly preparing for a possible worst-case scenario on New Year’s. About 60,000 police and troops were to be deployed throughout the country tomorrow.
“The same troops who used to be in Mali, Chad, French Guyana or the Central African Republic are now ensuring the protection of French people,” said Minister of Defence Jean-Yves Le Drian.
A previously scheduled New Year’s Eve fireworks show in Paris has been cancelled; instead, there will be a five-minute video display at the Arc de Triomphe that, in Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s words, is aimed at “sending the world the message that Paris is standing, proud of its lifestyle and living together”.