ANKARA // Turkish police on Wednesday detained two ISIL suspects accused of plotting a suicide bomb attack on New Year’s Eve celebrations in the capital Ankara.
Hours later, authorities in Brussels called off the city’s traditional New Year’s Eve fireworks display, citing fears of a militant attack. It came a day after two people suspected of plotting an attack in the Belgian capital were detained.
Turkish officials said the two suspects, whose nationality was not disclosed, were planning to strike an area in the centre of the city that is expected to be packed with revellers on the night of December 31.
Turkey has been on high alert since 103 people were killed on October 10 when two suicide bombers ripped through a crowd of peace activists in Ankara – the worst attack in the country’s modern history.
The two men, identified as MC and AY, had already carried out surveillance on potential targets.
They had planned to strike two separate spots around the capital’s main Kizilay square – one outside a big shopping mall and the second in a street packed with pubs.
Counter-terror police arrested the pair in the district of Mamak on Ankara’s outskirts, the privately-owned NTV television reported.
Police also confiscated one suicide bomb vest, one bomb mechanism with ball bearings and one rucksack with bomb-making materials.
ISIL militants were blamed for the October attack in Ankara, as well as two other deadly strikes in the country’s Kurdish-dominated south-east over the summer.
In June, four people were killed in an attack on a rally of the main pro-Kurdish party in Diyarbakir while in July, 33 people were killed in a suicide bombing against activists in the town of Suruc on the Syrian border.
In recent months, Turkish authorities have cracked down on ISIL’s so-called “sleeper cells” throughout the country.
“Turkey is a target of terror because it is on the frontline in the fight against IS,” said a Turkish officia.
Earlier this month, police arrested an alleged member of the extremist group who was suspected of planning a suicide attack on the US consulate in Istanbul.
The Syrian national was detained at a bus station in the southern city of Kahramanmaras and then remanded in custody.
Long criticised by its allies for taking too soft a line against extremists, Turkey is now taking stronger action against ISIL after being shaken by attacks on its soil and the Paris assaults.
Ankara has vehemently rejected accusations of failing to properly police its 911 kilometre border with Syria, saying its sheer length makes it impossible to block off entirely.
Turkey has called for better intelligence sharing from its allies – a complaint also brought up by its Western partners.
* Agence France-Presse, with additional reporting by Reuters