Dramatic daylight terror raids on a university may have been linked to a plot to blow up a shopping centre or nightclub, police fear.
Students at Liverpool John Moores University watched in shock yesterday as two men were hauled outside and forced to the ground by armed police.
Witnesses said the duo – students at the university’s Business School – were wearing combat trousers and hiking jackets, and claimed there were rumours of ‘a bomb’ on the premises.
Armed police stalk the streets of Manchester in terror raids today
Armed officers take no chances as they immobilise a terror suspect in Liverpool
Last night it was claimed that officers used a Taser stun gun to subdue at least one of the suspects.
The raid was brought forward after Scotland Yard Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick was photographed walking into Downing Street yesterday with top-secret files on the anti-terror operation under his arm.
The catastrophic security breach sparked immediate emergency action and led to Quick’s resignation this morning.
The raid was one of a series carried out simultaneously across the North-West in which 12 suspects believed to be plotting a major terrorist bomb attack in Britain were seized. Most of the men are Pakistani nationals living in Britain on student visas.
Police believe possible targets were the Trafford Centre shopping centre in Manchester and a nightclub frequented by footballers.
- Anti-terror chief quits after dossier blunder forced police to rush forward raids on Al-Qaeda suspects
- Revealed: The blunders that halted the rise of Bob Quick
The other areas targeted included Cheetham Hill in north Manchester, where officers raided two houses looking for explosive material and seeking four men. An internet cafe was also searched.
In addition, a Homebase DIY store in Clitheroe, Lancashire, was raided by 100 officers, with shoppers looking on as two security guards were led away.
A property thought to be a guest house was also searched in Clitheroe.
Just before 5pm police detained a man in a flat above a shop in the Wavertree area of Liverpool.
A suspect is bundled away in Cheetham Hill
And at 8pm police swooped on a white van travelling on the M602 on the outskirts of Manchester.
Carrying out such raids in daylight and in public places is highly unusual and proved deeply shocking to the students who witnessed the Liverpool operation.
Officers surrounded the Aldham Robarts library at John Moores University at about 5.30pm, telling students to stay where they were over the public address system.
One student, Nicholas Higgins, who was working on his dissertation, said: ‘The tannoy said, “Students, please keep away from the windows, log off and move away from the windows”, so at first we thought it was to do with drugs.
‘But they came on again and told us what was going on – there were terrorists outside, and to keep away from the windows because they may have got a bomb on them.
‘I saw two men lying on the floor, hands behind their back, surrounded by police, police all around with their guns round them.
Armed officers stand above a terror suspect in Liverpool
‘They looked like students, they had combats on, outdoor jackets like a Berghaus-type on. I was stunned, I was terrified.’
Journalism student Marcel Deer, 22, said: ‘We were told to keep away from the windows because there was a police situation.
‘I snatched a look out of the window and two foreign-looking guys were on the ground and there were police holding them at gunpoint with their hands tied up behind their backs.
‘It was all pretty scary. It’s frightening when there are armed police with machine guns everywhere and we did think our lives could be in danger.
‘There were rumours that it was some kind of suspected chemical attack but we were never told anything officially. The whole thing went on for about 50 minutes before we were then told it was safe.’
The two suspects are thought to have been taken from the library building at about 5.30pm.
Both were aged in their twenties. One was bearded, the other clean-shaven.
End of the raid: A student wearing a hiking jacket is placed in a van with his arms secured behind his back
The university confirmed that both arrested men were students there. Term has finished, but a number of students were using the library to revise.
A spokesman said: ‘Police got in touch and asked if they could use the area, and we co-operated fully. It was obviously very frightening for students who were there.’
A woman who lives next door to a terraced house where two men were arrested in Cheetham Hill said she saw a man being hauled down the street by officers.
Bushra Majid, 33, a housewife, said: ‘I opened the door and four or five policemen were on top of a man. They were dragging him along the street and he had no shoes on.
‘They shouted at me, “Get inside. Get inside”.
‘There was a policeman on each corner of the street. They were dressed in black and had machine guns.
Police at the scene of an address in Wavertree, Liverpool after a series of terror raids in the in the North West
‘I heard lots of noise inside the house, like people running up and down the stairs.
The mother-of-four said the house next door was rented and there were always people coming and going.
‘There were about six or seven men living there for the last six months.
‘Some were aged 45 to 50, others were aged in their 20s. They used to go to the local Al Falah mosque daily.’
Billy Mortimer who lives further down the road also saw the raid.
He said: ‘They took two men wearing white robes out of the house and ran them up the street, one police on each side, and ran them into the entry where there were even more police.
‘All the street was blocked off by police cars and officers.
‘It was very fast and very professional.
A general view of the Cyber Net Cafe, Cheetham Hill, where two men were arrested
‘After they took them away more police entered wearing gloves and masks and began searching the house.’
Two men were arrested at an internet cafe and shop on the road. The cafe is in the basement of a row of shops on a main road and has a sign outside advertising itself as Cyber Net Cafe and computer repair shop.
Mesu Raza, an unemployed man from Pakistan who lives in a flat above the cafe, said:
‘I saw police arrest two people and put them in a police van.
‘They had handcuffs on, they were Asian men, and the police were armed.
‘Two police vans arrived outside the shop and there was more police went round the back. There were many officers and a large number of police vans.’
Officers were later seen going into an address on Greenhill Road, across the street from the internet cafe.
Police swooped on a terraced house and arrested three men. The road was cordoned off last night.
A resident said the raid took place at about 5pm.
He said: ‘I looked and about midway down the road there were a load of police officers dressed in black and they were bringing some men out of a house.
‘The men were then put into a van and driven away.’
Witnesses said one man was detained in a flat above a shop just before 5pm.
Moments later the suspect was lying face-down in the street, his head covered.
Rebecca Mallon, 31, who lives nearby, said: ‘I was walking up the road and two black cars, an Audi and a BMW, tore down the street and pulled up outside the shop.
Police at an address where men were arrested in a series of anti-terror raids
‘Then a lot of men wearing black, not police uniforms, it looked like combat gear, burst out of the cars and stormed the door to a flat next to one of the shops.’
She continued: ‘The man inside must have been right behind the door because almost straight away he was out in the street and the police had him lying face down on the ground.
‘They covered his head in a blanket and kept him there for about 20 minutes.
‘They were shouting to him ‘keep down, keep your head down’.
‘Then they took him away in a police van.’
Officers from the North West Counter-Terrorism Unit supported by Merseyside Police, Greater Manchester Police and Lancashire Constabulary conducted the raids.
Senior detectives said they moved quickly following an ‘imminent and credible’ threat of an atrocity by an Al Qaedalinked group, including the construction of an explosive device, said to be a conventional bomb rather than a ‘dirty’ bomb incorporating nuclear material.
One officer said: ‘These are the most significant terrorism arrests to be made for some time.
‘There was information which led us to believe that these men were planning something major.
‘It was not clear when or where they would strike but they were collecting material for a large explosion. We are talking about something big.’