George Galloway Â£1million aid convoy link to three terror suspects arrested on M65
Three men arrested by counter-terrorism police on a motorway were allegedly planning to leave Britain as part of a Â£1million aid convoy to Gaza, which was organised by former Labour MP George Galloway.
Security sources say the men aged 26, 29 and 36 from Burnley, Lancashire, had been under surveillance for two months in an operation connected to a potential threat of terrorism in the Middle East.
Nine men were arrested initially on Friday night as they drove west in two vans on the M65 near Preston. Six were later released without charge.
One of the two vans surrounded by police vehicles bore an image of the Palestinian flag on its side. The other had signs saying Stop Killing Children, Free Palestine and From Blackburn (UK) to Gaza.
The arrests were part of an ongoing operation by specialist officers from Lancashire Constabulary, Greater Manchester Police and the North West Counter Terrorism Unit. The operation has been monitored by MI5.
The three men were being held tonight at a Lancashire police station hours after the convoy, made up of more than 100 vehicles, left London and boarded ferries from Ramsgate in Kent, to Ostend, Belgium, en route to Gaza.
The convoy included 12 ambulances and a fire engine and carried medicines, tools, clothes, blankets and shoe boxes full of children’s treats.
Respect Party MP Mr Galloway, who will help drive the convoy, declined to comment on the arrests.
His spokesman said that without the names of those arrested and their vehicle registration numbers, it would not be possible to say whether the men detained by police were part of the official convoy.
It will travel 5,000 miles through France, Spain, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt before arriving at Rafah in Gaza early next month.
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MP George Galloway in London as the Gaza convoy set out
Police today searched five houses in Burnley where those arrested were understood to have lived. One front door was removed from its hinges as police entered the house.
Chief Superintendent Neil Smith, of Lancashire Police, said: ‘We will endeavour to carry out any searches as quickly as possible to minimise the impact on the area concerned.
‘However, enquiries of this nature are complex and may take time to resolve.’
Tory MP Patrick Mercer, chairman of the Commons Counter-Terrorism Sub-Committee, said: ‘This is another successful operation by our security forces that marks the ongoing threat no one must underestimate.’
A Lancashire police spokeswoman said: ‘Three people were arrested at approximately 9pm on Friday on the M65 westbound motorway near Preston.
‘The motorway was closed for a short period of time whilst a number of vehicles were seized.
‘The arrests are part of an ongoing intelligence-led operation and investigation by Lancashire Constabulary and the North West Counter Terrorism Unit.’