Belgium Police Arrest Muslims Sympathizers Over New Year’s Attack Plot

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Police officers in front of the central station in Brussels on Monday. Six people were taken for questioning but four later released.
Police officers in front of the central station in Brussels on Monday
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BRUSSELS – Police in Belgium have detained six people during house searches in Brussels on Thursday as part of an investigation into an alleged plot to carry out an attack in the capital on New Year’s Eve.

Authorities on Wednesday called off the traditional New Year’s Eve fireworks display in the capital, citing fears of a militant attack.

Police carried out searches at six locations in the Belgian capital and one just outside the city, seizing computers, mobile phones and equipment for airsoft, a sport involving guns that shoot non-lethal plastic pellets.

A judge was to decide later on Thursday whether the six detained people could be held further.

Two Belgian nationals arrested earlier this week and named as 30-year-old Said S. and 27-year-old Mohammed K., are being held on suspicion of planning a terrorist attack, prosecutors said. A court on Thursday extended their custody for a month.

Both are members of the Kamikaze Riders, a Brussels-based motor bike group whose members are mostly of North African origin and carry out bike stunts which can be seen in online videos.

Some Belgian media say the group harbours Islamic State sympathisers and that the search for other group members had led Brussels to cancel Thursday night’s planned firework display.

Belgium has been on alert level three – which means a possible and probable serious threat – since the Nov. 13 Paris attacks. The capital itself was on the maximum alert level four for almost a week last month.

The presumed ringleader of the Paris attackers, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was Belgian and grew up in the poor Brussels district of Molenbeek. Two further Paris attackers had been living in the Belgian capital.

Federal prosecutors said on Thursday that a 10th person had been charged with involvement in the attacks after 10 mobile phones were found during a search at a Molenbeek residence on Wednesday.

By Robert-Jan Bartunek and Philip Blenkinsop

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