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Four held as bomb squad called in amid police terror plot raids

The arrests were made in Sheffield and Chesterfield.

Armed police have swooped on a number of properties in an operation to foil a suspected Christmas terror plot.

An Army bomb squad was deployed following a raid in Chesterfield and officers also conducted early morning operations in three parts of Sheffield.

Counter-terror police said three men, aged 22, 36 and 41, were detained at different addresses in Sheffield, and a 31-year-old was held in Chesterfield.

An area of the north Derbyshire town was sealed off for much of Tuesday as the bomb disposal team worked with large numbers of police behind a cordon.

In the Meersbrook area of Sheffield, residents said they were woken by police blowing open the door of a run-down terraced house as their street was swamped by heavily armed officers in protective gear.

A few miles further north, in the Burngreave area, a mosque and community centre was sealed off with local people telling similar stories of being woken at 6am by a series of loud bangs and camouflaged officers with guns.

Two other raids are understood to have happened at a flat a short distance from the centre in Burngreave and a property in the town of Stocksbridge, just north of Sheffield.

The operation was mounted as police and MI5 tackle a terror threat seen as unprecedented.

In addition to five attacks in London and Manchester, Home Secretary Amber Rudd revealed earlier this month that security agencies have foiled nine plots since the Westminster atrocity in March.

Counter-terror teams are running about 500 live investigations involving 3,000 individuals at any one time, while there is also a wider pool of 20,000 subjects of previous probes.

In Chesterfield, Simon Fox, 22, of Shaw Street, said: “We have seen Army, police from all over, we have seen a couple of packages being removed by the bomb disposal unit. You just don’t expect this to happen in such a small town.”

One person said the police arrived in the street at 4.30am.

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Police activity in Chesterfield (PA)

A woman, who did not wish to be named and lives opposite the property that was raided on Kings Road North, said: “I was watching telly and saw police knocking on a neighbour’s door.

“The next minute they were banging on my door and shouted, ‘you have 10 minutes to get out, we’re evacuating’. I was really panicking.

“It’s a Syrian family who lives there, they didn’t speak much.

“He definitely had children, he had a beard, and he dressed trendy. He had two little kids, one was in a pushchair. His wife had a headscarf, they kept themselves to themselves, really.”

In Meersbrook, retired Joan Miller, 63, said she was woken by a loud bang at 5.30am and looked out of her window to see plain-clothed armed officers in the street.

Ms Miller said: “It was a very loud bang. It shook the house. I pulled the curtains and saw lots of armed men in the street, so I kept watching because that was quite extraordinary.”

Ms Miller and others in the street said they did not know who lived in the house opposite, which is in a dilapidated state.

She said: “All sorts of different people have been living there.”

A man living near the Fatima Community Centre, on Brunswick Road, said he was woken by a three louds bangs in quick succession and then saw at least six men with rifles in camouflage and body armour.

He said he saw them bring out one man and put him in a police van.

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Fatima Community Centre in Sheffield (PA)

The man said the building used to be the local Irish club but was taken over about 10 years ago and is now used as a mosque and community centre.

He said: “There are people in there all hours of the day and night.”

Asked if he was surprised this had happened on his doorstep, he said: “No”.

All four of the arrested men were taken to a police station in West Yorkshire for questioning. They were arrested on suspicion of being concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism under Section 41 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

Police said the arrests were “intelligence-led and pre-planned” as part of an investigation by Counter Terrorism Policing North East (CTPNE).

A CTPNE statement said: “The Army’s bomb disposal unit is currently attending the address in Chesterfield.

“As a precautionary measure and in the interest of public safety, the immediate area has been cordoned off and local residents evacuated while a thorough search is carried out.”

Derbyshire Constabulary Assistant Chief Constable Bill McWilliam said: “We of course understand that police activity of this nature can be unsettling.

“However, please be reassured, the arrest we wanted to make has been made.”

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