Turkish authorities arrested two suspected Islamic State extremists allegedly planning to kill revelers during New Year’s Eve celebrations in Ankara, and Belgium canceled the main fireworks display in Brussels, amid a heightened state of alert over possible Islamic State attacks around the holidays.
Turkish officials said counterterrorism police found a suicide vest and a backpack filled with explosives and ball bearings when the two men were taken into custody in a low-income neighborhood in the capital, Ankara.
Turkish media outlets published photos of the explosives purportedly seized in the raid, and said the men were planning to target popular shopping and restaurant districts in the city.
The end-of-the-year fireworks in Belgium were canceled a day before two members of a Belgian motorcycle group charged with plotting an attack at Brussels’ Grand Place were due to appear in court.
Belgian police said they had found Islamic State propaganda in one of the raids earlier this week that led to the arrest of the two men. According to a person familiar with the investigation, the two men are members of the motorcycle group Kamikaze Riders, which is known to include people of various religions.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, appearing on RTBF, the Belgian national broadcaster, said the celebration was canceled in light of “a possible and credible threat.”
“In this uncertain situation, when investigations are under way and information arrives practically every hour...it seems to me the decision was correct and well-founded and I am in full agreement with it,” he said.
The two men were charged Tuesday with plotting to attack police and military personnel during end-of-year holiday celebrations in Brussels’ Grand Place.
The fireworks display was scheduled to be held at another nearby center-city site, De Brouckère.
According to a person familiar with the investigation, the two men are members of the motorcycle group Kamikaze Riders, which is known to include people of various religions.
A Belgian judge on Thursday will rule on whether the two men will continue to be detained. Xavier Carrette, a lawyer for one of the accused, Mohamed Karay, said his client denied the charges. He said Mr. Karay had no criminal record and wasn’t radicalized.
The lawyer for the other man, accused of being the ringleader of the alleged plot, couldn’t be identified. That individual has been charged with both plotting a terror attack and recruiting people into a terrorist group.
Belgian police launched two fresh raids Wednesday in the Brussels district of Molenbeek, taking in one man in connection to the investigation into the Paris attacks.
Turkish authorities recently stepped up their own counterterrorism operations in advance of year-end celebrations by mounting a series of raids across the country and detaining scores of people trying to enter Turkey from Syria.
New Year’s celebrations in Turkey are frowned upon by some conservative Muslims who see it as a Christian tradition.
A few dozen protesters gathered on Wednesday to object to New Year festivities in Istanbul, where malls and shops feature animated Santa Claus figurines singing Christmas songs, illuminated Christmas trees and other holiday decorations that some Turks have embraced to celebrate New Year’s Eve.
The intensifying international fight against Islamic State, combined with the Turkish government’s deepening fight with Kurdish insurgents, has created more concern in the country about rising security risks.
Last week, Kurdish militants claimed responsibility for firing several mortars at Istanbul’s second-largest airport, an attack that killed one woman. The separatists threatened to carry out more attacks on civilian targets if the Turkish government doesn’t ease up on its continuing military operations against Kurdish insurgents in southeastern Turkey.
—Natalia Drozdiak, Inti Landauro and Laurence Norman contributed to this article.