FIVE innocent Blackburn men arrested during an anti-terror operation have described the moments police swooped on their aid mission to Gaza.
Ali Mohammed Hafejee, 19, from Audley, Younus Rawat, 27, from Pleckgate, Ismail Satia, 23, from Little Harwood, Umar Patel, 20, and a 20-year-old from Daisyfield, who has asked to be named only as Mr Ahmed, were arrested under the Terrorism Act on Friday on the M65.
They said they were making their way to London with four others – three of whom are still being question by police – to join a convoy taking aid, such as medicines and children’s toys, to Palestine.
The men were kept in police custody overnight before being released without charge.
They have now said they are more determined than ever to reach the disaster zone and have vowed to catch up with the 100 vehicle convoy, led by MP George Galloway, later this week before it reaches Gaza.
The group say the swoop came after they agreed to allowed a former ambulance, also heading to towards London and on to Gaza, to travel with their two vans as a favour.
The group had also picked up a sixth man from Burnley, who was also released without charge, who was travelling with them in one of their two vehicles.
The third vehicle, the ambulance, is believed to have contained the three men aged 26, 29, and 36, who are still being questioned under the Terrorism Act by Lancashire Police.
Mr Rawat, who was driving one of the aid vans, said: “It was coincidental that we ended up travelling with the ambulance going from Burnley, it was due to leave after 8pm and we were leaving Burnley at 7pm.”
Mr Hafejee said: “They were going at eight and we thought why don’t we leave together.”
The drivers Mr Rawat and Mr Ahmed said they suspected there had been an accident and slowed down when ‘Police Incident’ and ‘Slow Down’ signs appeared on the motorway.
They said the motorway was swarming with police vans, cars and 4x4 vehicles and a helicopter Moments later police surr-ounded each vehicle and forced them on to to the hard shoulder where they were arrested.
Each of them were taken in separate vehicles to the police station.
They were released without being interviewed. The vehicles were returned to them on Sunday evening.
Mr Hafejee said: “I couldn’t believe we were being arrested for terrorism.
"We were going for a good thing and it has turned into a bad thing.
“Despite everything that has happened we are even more eager to go.”
Mr Rawat said: “We had been organising this for two to three weeks.
"People put their trust in us, we were given a lot of money to take with us.
“If the police suspected these men they should have acted before.”