Villagers moved as police search 'Real IRA bases'

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The Independent Online

About 20 residents of a Yorkshire village were sent to a hotel last night and a school was closed as bomb squad officers searched two farmhouses suspected of being bases for Real IRA terrorists.

A large number of items were taken from the disused buildings at West Ardsley, near Leeds, and bomb squad officers had carried out controlled explosions on Thursday night.

The village's infant school was closed and pupils told to stay at home as large parts of the community were cordoned off.

The investigation is part of a large-scale anti-terrorist operation against the suspected dissident republican group operating on the mainland.

Detectives were continuing to question six men yesterday at a police station in central London. The suspects, all believed to be Irish, were arrested during raids on Thursday in London and Liverpool.

The six men were questioned about an 18-month terror campaign being waged in Britain. Five of the men, aged 20, 22, 32, 37 and 41, were arrested at a terraced house in Edmonton, north London, the sixth, aged 22, was detained in Liverpool.

The Real IRA have carried out at least eight terrorist attacks going back to June last year. They include a rocket assault on the MI6 headquarters, a car bomb that injured 11 people in August in a busy street in Ealing, west London, and, earlier this month, a car bomb in Birmingham city centre.

A red taxi used by the Real IRA as a car bomb outside BBC Television Centre in Shepherd's Bush, west London, in March was bought just streets away from where five suspects lived. The address was being searched by forensic specialists but detectives would not reveal whether bomb equipment or guns had been discovered.

In Ardsley, police suspected one of the buildings, a former pig farm, had been used as a safe house and command centre. Local residents said that two Irishmen and a Welshman had been renting the property. A second farm nearby was also searched as part of the inquiry.

About 20 villagers were forced to move to a community hall on Thursday night after bomb squad officers set off several explosions close to the property.

The police evacuated the hall yesterday and took the occupants, some carrying overnight bags and one with a pet dog, to a nearby hotel.

Sherry Bradley, a local councillor who escorted the group, said the residents had been asked to leave the community centre as they could end up getting "locked in" if bomb squad officers set off further explosions.

Motorists were also being advised to keep away from the area and there was disruption to many local bus services.

One resident, Jeremy Richardson, 37, said: "The police seem very edgy – we have been told to stay away from the area and told not to take photographs of vehicles or officers in the area."

Colin Challen, the MP for Morley and Rothwell, said: "It is shocking to find out events such as these taking place on our own doorstep. I have come to check on the welfare of local residents who have been taken out of their homes.

"Residents are bearing up but need further help and face being out of their houses for some time yet. When I was told of the events on Thursday, I felt disbelief. I only live in the next village and one doesn't expect to find this happening in one's own area."

Robert Kitchen, 55, whose house overlooks the farm, said: "Last night, we heard a couple of explosions and then, this morning, we noticed the place was crawling with police."

Another resident, Clifford Binks, said the farm has been let out since the summer to a group of men, including a Irish man in his thirties. "We didn't see much of them but you would hear wagons coming and going at night," he said.

Armoured Land Rovers and armed police officers remained at the farm yesterday.

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