Police in Belgium thwarted a possible New Year's Eve terrorist plot when they detained eight suspects this week. In addition to six suspects arrested on Thursday, Belgian officers arrested two men in Brussels on Sunday who are suspected of being part of an ISIS cell that had been plotting to target the capital city during the holiday. Both men were members of a Belgium-based motorcycle club that's reportedly been linked to extremist activity in the past. Who are the Kamikaze Riders motorcycle gang? According to evidence found by Belgian authorities and one crime expert's analysis, some of its members allegedly might have direct ties to ISIS.
In light of the suspected terrorist plots, the mayor of Brussels, Yvan Mayeur, announced that all New Year's Eve celebrations in the city have been cancelled. A series of raids in Brussels on Thursday produced six more arrests on top of the two suspects detained on Sunday. Those two individuals, who have been identified as Said Saouti and Mohammed Karay, have been confirmed by authorities to be members of the Kamikaze Riders, The Independent reported.
But how are the Kamikaze Riders allegedly connected to ISIS or extremist activity exactly?
Though its name references a Japanese term and it uses Japanese imagery and bikes, the motorcycle club is formed predominantly by men of Moroccan descent. In her in-depth profile of extremist motorcycle clubs in Europe, crime analyst Alexandra Jones described the Kamikaze Riders as being "closely associated with jihadists active in Iraq and Syria."
Saouti is one of the founding members of the Kamikaze Riders. In the article, Jones described Saouti as a Salafist preacher who names Anwar al-Awlaki as his teacher. Al-Awlaki is an Islamic lecturer who U.S. government officials believe is a prominent recruiter and motivator for al-Qaeda. A Facebook photo purportedly shows Saouti, who goes by Said Deltabox on social media, standing in front of an ISIS flag.
Kamikaze Riders' other co-founder, Abdelouafi Elouassaki, also had alleged ties to Islamic extremism, Jones wrote. In 2013, Elouassaki was arrested for providing material support to two of his brothers, Houssien and Hakim, who were both suspected of terrorist activities and fighting with ISIS in Syria. Before he died, Houssien had allegedly helped to create the extremist group Sharia4Belgium and was reportedly believed to have been plotting an attack in Brussels, according to Jones. Abdelouafi died in a motorcycle accident in May 2013.
However, one member of the Kamikaze Riders insisted that the MC was not a terrorist group to Belgian radio station RTL. Ludovic Ansel said:
It’s not only Arabs or Muslims. There are Christians, there are Africans — we are a family. We make video clips, we hold motorbike rallies, we do charity work for disadvantaged schools.
Evidence found by authorities seem to paint a different picture. During their raid of multiple locations linked to Saouti and Karay, Belgian police said they found "military-type training uniforms, IS propaganda material, and computer equipment," according to the prosecutor's office.
Saouti has been charged with threatening terror attacks, recruiting others to make terror attacks, and participating in a terrorist organization. Karay has been charged with threatening terror attacks and participating in a terrorist organization.