‘Unprecedented’ security for New Year celebrations

Police numbers multiplied across Europe, streets blocked to avert more truck attacks

Soldier at the Louvre in Paris. More than 90,000 police and soldiers will be on duty across France over the holiday. Photograph: Yoan Valat/EPA

Soldier at the Louvre in Paris. More than 90,000 police and soldiers will be on duty across France over the holiday. Photograph: Yoan Valat/EPA

 

Major western cities are tightening security for New Year’s Eve celebrations amid continuing terrorism fears, with authorities particularly concerned about a repeat of this year’s deadly truck attacks in Germany and France.

In Berlin, heavy concrete blocks and armoured cars will prevent access to Pariser Platz, the square in front of Brandenburg Gate where New Year’s Eve is traditionally celebrated. Police spokesman Thomas Neuendorf said: “Every measure is being taken to prevent a possible attack.”

Twelve people died and 56 were injured in the German capital on December 19th when a hijacked truck was driven into Christmas market crowds. The suspected perpetrator, Anis Amri, a Tunisian national, fled and was eventually shot dead by police in Italy.

The attack, months after a similar atrocity in Nice on Bastille Day that killed 86 people and wounded more than 400, underscored the threat to large holiday crowds in open spaces from a low-tech but devastating type of terrorist attack that can be carried out by one person.

Mr Neuendorf said about 1,700 officers, some carrying submachine guns, would be stationed in and around Pariser Platz in an “unprecedented” security operation under which glass bottles and fireworks would be banned and revellers subjected to bag searches and video surveillance.

Cologne has also dramatically stepped up security, increasing police numbers fivefold and installing new CCTV cameras since hundreds of women were sexually assaulted and robbed outside the central train station by suspects mainly of north African and Arab appearance on New Year’s Eve 2015.

Fireworks cancelled

Paris has cancelled its traditional firework display at the Eiffel Tower – as the city did after the November 2015 terror attacks in which 130 people died – but the French capital expects up to 600,000 people on the Champs-Élysées to watch a lightshow at the Arc de Triomphe to see in 2017.

More than 50 surrounding streets will be closed to traffic, including parked cars, from 6.30pm on Saturday, many access roads will be sealed off with concrete barriers or heavy vehicles, and strict bans on fireworks and glass bottles will be enforced, Paris city hall said.

The French interior minister, Bruno le Roux, said more than 90,000 police and soldiers would be on duty around the country over the holiday period. Three men were arrested near Toulouse on Wednesday on suspicion of planning New Year’s Eve terror attacks.

In Madrid, heavy vehicles will be used to block potential truck attacks on New Year’s Eve crowds in the central square Puerta del Sol, with an extra 1,600 police on duty. Trucks weighing more than 3.5 tonnes have been banned from areas holding traditional Three Kings parades on January 5th.

Brussels, where suicide bombers killed 32 people and injured more than 300 in March, cancelled its New Year’s Eve fireworks display in 2015 after the discovery of a terror plot, but decided to go ahead this year with “significantly enhanced” security.

City hall said two metro stations and all but five access roads leading to the party strip between Place de la Bourse and Place de Brouckère would be closed, with strict security checks on everyone entering the zone.

Threat averted

In Italy, where fears of an attack were heightened last week by Amri’s killing in the suburbs of Milan, the interior ministry said it had deported a Tunisian national who was “set to strike” Italy.

Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni has said there is “no evidence” the Berlin attacker was part of a terrorist network in Italy, but police have increased their presence at possible targets and tourist areas in Rome, and some lorries and buses are forbidden to enter the city centre.

Security concerns are not confined to continental Europe. In London, armed police will join about 3,000 officers on the streets as hundreds of thousands of people come to watch the official fireworks display by the river Thames.

In New York, the police chief, Carlos Gomez, said 65 heavy rubbish and salting trucks loaded with sand would be stationed around the perimeter of Times Square – where up to two million people are expected to gather – and there would be 100 lighter “blocker trucks” nearby. About 7,000 police will be on duty.

“Due to the terrorist attacks in Nice, France and in Berlin, we’ve enhanced our security measures,” Mr Gomez said.

In Sydney, an extra 2,000 police officers will be deployed for the waterfront celebrations, with buses used as barriers in some busy pedestrian areas.

– Guardian service