Thursday, December 31, 2015
Cities around world tighten New Year's Eve security amid terror attack fears
Brussels has cancelled its official celebrations, Paris called off an annual fireworks display on the Champs-Élysées and London increased the numbers of firearms officers on the streets as authorities across the world stepped up security measures for New Year’s Eve.
Belgian police detained six people during house searches in Brussels on Thursday in an investigation into an alleged plot to carry out an attack in the city. Earlier in the week two other people were arrested on suspicion of preparing attacks on “emblematic sites” in Brussels during the celebrations. Another man was questioned over links to last month’s Paris attacks.
Authorities said a firework display and festivities that attracted 100,000 people last year would not go ahead after revealing the alleged jihadi plot.
“Unfortunately we have been forced to cancel the fireworks and all that was planned for tomorrow [Thursday] evening,” the mayor, Yvan Mayeur, told Belgian broadcaster RTBF. “It’s better not to take any risks.”
In Paris, where 130 people were killed by extremists last month, the annual fireworks display on the Champs-Élysées has been called off and 11,000 police, soldiers and firefighters will patrol the French capital. In all, 60,000 police and troops will be deployed across the country.
However, France’s biggest public gathering since the atrocities will still go ahead on the Champs-Élysées.
“The people of Paris and France need this symbolic passage into the new year,” said Anne Hidalgo, mayor of the French capital. “After what our city has lived through, we have to send a signal to the world,” she told the weekly Journal du Dimanche.
Charlie Hebdo, the satirical magazine, is to release a special issue one year after the attack in which 12 of its staff were killed by jihadis. The 32-page double issue – featuring a selection of drawings by the cartoonists who died in the attack, as well as by current staff and messages of support – will be released on 6 January. Nearly a million copies will go on sale.
Moscow’s Red Square, traditionally a place where people gather to ring in the new year, will be closed. “It’s no secret that Moscow is one of the choice targets for terrorists,” the Moscow mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, said recently.
In London, thousands of police, including increased numbers of firearms officers, will be on duty. Scotland Yard said there would be about 3,000 officers across central London as a fireworks display brings in 2016.
Metropolitan police spokeswoman Supt Jo Edwards said: “New Year’s Eve is a major celebration in the diary and the Met has been working with colleagues to ensure celebrations run smoothly and the event is safe and enjoyable for everyone who attends.”
In Madrid, 600 police will be deployed to Puerta del Sol square, where the number of revellers has been limited to 25,000.
In Turkey, officials said two Islamic State suspects, reportedly both Turks, were planning to stage suicide bombings in the centre of Ankara. Turkey has been on a high security alert since October, whentwo 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. According to the private NTV television, counter-terrorism police arrested the pair in the Mamak district on the outskirts of the capital.
“They are suspected of being affiliated with Islamic State and were planning an attack on the new year in Ankara,” a Turkish official told AFP.
The two intended to stage an attack in Ankara’s main Kizilay square, the Anatolia news agency reported, citing the prosecutor’s office.
In New York city, where 1 million gather in Times Square every year, officials said 6,000 officers, some plainclothes, would be on hand to watch over celebrations. Bill de Blasio, theNew York mayor, 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 Somalia, the government has banned celebrations of Christmas and New Year for fear of attacks. In Germany, which has received 1 million refugees this year, many shelters have banned firecrackers and pyrotechnics to protect people from reliving the trauma of wars they fled.
Sydney kicked off the global celebrations with its biggest fireworks display ever. Despite safety concerns, a million-plus crowd watched the extravaganza from the Harbour Bridge and Opera House before the chimes of midnight began their move across Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe and finally the Americas.