Real IRA suspects quizzed by police

Detectives were today continuing to question six suspected Irish Republican dissidents over the 18-month Real IRA bombing campaign on the UK mainland.

Anti-terrorism officers were also combing a disused farm at West Ardsley near Leeds where several controlled explosions were carried out last night.

The suspects were arrested in dawn raids yesterday, five men at one address in north London and the sixth at an address in Liverpool.

Under the Terrorism Act detectives have 48 hours to question them and they could be held for up to seven days if extensions are applied for.

A school, Hill Top Infants School, which is near the farm was closed today and pupils were being told to stay at home due to the on-going investigation, police said.

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

One local resident, Jeremy Richardson, 37, said there were still large numbers of police at the scene, and they had taken several items away today.

He 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.

"A helicopter hovered over the area last night and the whole area has been sealed off.

"But really we have been kept in the dark and not told anything."

As people were evacuated from their homes, residents in the village opened the community centre so people could get hot drinks and snacks.

Several armoured Land Rovers and heavily armed police officers remained at the farm today.

Some residents of West Ardsley who were evacuated from their homes last night were allowed back to fetch personal belongings today but asked by police not to stay in their homes.

Police were waiting for the Army to arrive at the farm.

The addresses in London and Liverpool where the arrests were made were also being searched by forensic specialists but detectives would not reveal whether bomb equipment or guns had been discovered.

The suspects are all aged between 20 and 40 and one is thought to be from the Republic of Ireland while the rest are believed to be from England.

They are being questioned about a series of at least eight terrorist attacks going back to June last year.

Several of the attacks took place in west London, leading to speculation that a Real IRA cell was based there.

Detectives have also warned recently that the dissident group, whose most notorious atrocity was the Omagh bombing, must not be forgotten in the wake of September 11.

They are regarded as the biggest threat to the Northern Ireland peace process and there have been fears that they could launch more attacks in the run-up to Christmas.

The attacks the six are being questioned about began with a bomb left at Hammersmith Bridge in the capital on June 1, last year.

The following month there was an attack on a railway line near Ealing Broadway station in west London.

In September last year, the MI6 headquarters at Vauxhall, south London, was attacked with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.

In February this year, 15-year-old army cadet Stephen Menary was blinded and maimed by a bomb which exploded at a Territorial Army base at White City, west London, which police believed may have been the Real IRA.

In March, a taxi packed with high explosives exploded outside the BBC Television Centre in Shepherd's Bush.

In April, there was a small explosion at a sorting office in Hendon, north London.

In August, a total of 11 people were injured when a Saab saloon blew up in a street bustling with young people in Ealing, west London.

And in November, an explosive device destroyed a car in the city centre of Birmingham.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Alan Fry of the Anti-Terrorist Branch said: "The arrests are the result of a lengthy investigation into dissident Irish Republican terrorist groups.

"Those in custody are being questioned in connection with the current bombing campaign on the UK mainland."

No comments have so far been submitted. Why not be the first to send us your thoughts, or debate this issue live on our message boards.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now