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Brussels Cancels New Year's Celebrations Amid Security Threat

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Brussels Cancels New Year's Celebrations Amid Security Threat

Europe

Brussels Cancels New Year's Celebrations Amid Security Threat

Brussels Cancels New Year's Celebrations Amid Security Threat

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NPR's Robert Siegel talks with reporter Teri Schultz about the security alert in Brussels after police arrested six more people suspected of plotting a terrorist attack.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

A huge of fire engulfed a luxury skyscraper in downtown Dubai tonight. The hotel and apartment complexes is 63 stories high. The fire started on the 20th floor. Several people are said to be injured, but no deaths have been reported. Despite the massive fire, the city went ahead with several large fireworks displays to mark the beginning of the new year. We're monitoring the story, and we'll bring you more details as we learn them.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Also, in Munich, authorities have warned that there are indications of a planned terrorist attack. Police have evacuated two train stations there. And in Brussels, the annual New Year's Eve fireworks show was canceled amid similar fears. Earlier today, Belgian police detained six people on suspicion of plotting such an attack, though three were later released.

SIEGEL: The decision to cancel the evening's events is controversial. More than 100,000 people attended last year's New Year's party in Brussels. Reporter Teri Schultz now joins us from the Belgian capital. Hiya, Teri.

TERI SCHULTZ: Hi, Robert.

SIEGEL: And how did the mayor of Brussels explain his decision to the city's partygoers?

SCHULTZ: This was clearly a very difficult decision for the Brussels mayor, Yvan Mayeur, and he took a long time making it on Wednesday. But he said that he simply couldn't ensure security for the tens of thousands of people that would be expected to show up for New Year's Eve festivities. A hundred-thousand people were in downtown Brussels last year. He said that's just too much for security forces to handle right now.

SIEGEL: What's the mood like in the center of the city?

SCHULTZ: Well, it's clearly somber tonight. I was just down on the Grand Place, which would've normally been filled with people, especially on a balmy winter night like it is tonight. And people were definitely not filled with the joy of the season. I talked to some Christmas market vendors who said that customers were not lingering, that people would walk by and sort of glance at products, but they would hurry by. They weren't spending time. They weren't spending money. And one lady I spoke to who sold chocolates said last year had been a banner year, and this year, she just felt like the mood was definitely dark. So, yeah - you mentioned the skies are dark. The mood is dark, too.

SIEGEL: Turning to the latest arrests, Teri, what can you tell us about them? And were these people supposedly linked to the Paris attacks?

SCHULTZ: At this point, the Brussels public prosecutor tells us they are not linked. Now, they have actually charged two people with being the planners of this attack. They were arrested earlier this week, and they were formally charged today with planning of a terrorist attack, threatening a terrorist attack. Due to some extremist propaganda found in residence during searches, one of them was also charged with being a recruiter to take part in this attack. The six people arrested today - three of whom have now been released - we don't know yet what they're going to be charged with. But that said, this group of people, this plot, is not believed to be linked to the Paris attacks.

SIEGEL: Right after the Paris attacks in November, Brussels was on lockdown for a few days. Do you still get the sense of a very heightened security there?

SCHULTZ: You do, and tonight is one good example. There are police patrols over the Grand Place. You've got infantrymen in the streets of Brussels guarding every embassy, in front of office buildings. And in fact, the police themselves were one of the targets of this plot that was broken up this week, and so now there are even infantrymen guarding police headquarters. So you do get a sense of a very heavy security presence. And that, of course, doesn't lend itself to joyfulness in downtown streets.

SIEGEL: The events that were canceled - these were officially organized parties. I assume private parties went on on New Year's Eve in Brussels.

SCHULTZ: That's right, Robert. In fact, businesses have suffered a lot because of the terror threats and the shutdown of several days. And restaurants and hotels were very much advertising that the fireworks display may be off but they were going to be open. Hotels will be holding their own New Year's Eve festivities, and people are very much trying to make the most of it while under terror threat-level three.

SIEGEL: That's Teri Schultz speaking with us about Brussels' decision to cancel its New Year's celebration - despite that, Teri, happy New Year.

SCHULTZ: Happy new year to you, Robert, and everyone at ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

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