MUSLIM community leaders have been left shocked and angry after anti-terror police swooped on East Lancashire aid vehicles bound for Gaza.

Nine men were arrested by officers under the Terrorism Act 2006 after three vehicles were stopped on the M65 on Friday evening.

Last night police were given four more days to question three of the men, aged 36, 29 and 36, after releasing the other six without charge.

It has now emerged that the aid in the vehicles, including children’s toys and medicines, had been collected by the Muslim community in Blackburn.

Today the Lancashire Telegraph can reveal five of the six released men were prominent figures in Blackburn’s Muslim community, believed to be from the Little Harwood area.

They had been chosen to go overland to Gaza as part of a 100 vehicle convoy, which left London on Saturday, led by MP George Galloway.

The three men still being questioned, who are from Burnley, were said to have been given a last-minute lift with the group as a favour.

They were only due to go as far as London.

Coun Salim Mulla, senior vice-chair of the Lancashire Council of Mosques, said: “I don’t know the three people from Burnley but we received a call where we were asked if the other lads could join them to drive down to London.

“They were not going to Gaza.

“We are very angry about the way the police carried out the operation on the M65.

“If they had suspicions about the three people from Burnley why did they not arrest them before? Why on the motorway?

“We work hard to build strong community relationships and community cohesion.

"This creates distrust within the community for the police.

“The community is very, very angry, it has never been so angry in East Lancashire.”

Coun Mulla said the aid had been collected over the last couple of weeks from people across the town.

He said “There was a convoy of vehicles travelling to Palestine from London on Saturday taking aid to the children of Gaza.

“We had vehicles donated to us, which were to be left with the people in Palestine, and they had been filled with toys, blankets, medicines and other essentials packed by ourselves.

“Children who had too many toys sacrificed them and gave some of them to us. Some people who had shoes they hadn’t worn donated them to the cause.

“We were fortunate these vans were donated to us. The Muslim community are fantastic supporters of humanitarian causes.

“Five people from Blackburn were hand picked to go and we chose these people because they were respected members of the community in Blackburn and we stressed to them they were representing us in Gaza.”

Steps are now in place to obtain the five passports belonging to the men from the police to enable the ‘respected’ individuals to continue with the journey and join the convoy in Europe.

It is believed the police still have their passports and mobile phones.

At the weekend a meeting of the Lancashire Council of Mosques and key leaders of the community was called to discuss the incident The meeting was held at a secret location in the Audley Range and Queen’s Park area and 20 people attended.

A decision was also made by the council to pull out of a meeting at Burnley Police station on Saturday afternoon where officers held a briefing.

Coun Mulla added: “Terrorism has no religion, we will go out of our way to get rid of this evil.

“The police have a responsibilty to make sure the community is safe and to live a peaceful life. We support that too.”

Audley Coun Salim Lorgat, who will tonight meet council bosses to discuss the issue, said he was very concerned about what had happened.

He said: “Everyone feels quite strongly about this issue in Blackburn. People are wondering why the police didn’t move earlier.”

Today, detectives were due to continue interviewing the Burnley trio on suspicion of terrorism. Detectives have until Thursday evening to question the men.

At the weekend five homes in the town were also searched by police.

Two properties in Rectory Road and homes in Clive Street, Gordon Street and Robinson Street, all in the Daneshouse and Stoneyholme areas of Burnley, were sealed off as uniform, plain-clothes and forensic officers worked.

In Rectory Road, two end-terrace houses and three vehicles were cordoned off with police tape.

It is understood two men, thought to be in their 40s, live in the houses.

Burnley Councillor Zahir Ahmed, who lives close by, said: “These men are our neighbours. Their kids come round our house and our kids go round theirs.

“There’s nothing extraordinary about them at all.

“They have lived in this road for 15 to 20 years - it is not as if it is someone new.”

He urged fellow residents to “respect” the police in their investigation.

Yesterday police said the aid in the vehicles seized, which were flying the Palestinian flag and had a sign saying From Blackburn (UK) to Gaza, would be released as soon as possible.

A spokeswoman said: “The cargo from these vehicles is now being thoroughly checked by search officers who are working as quickly as they can to ensure that the parcels can be released and continue on to their destination."

Some reports suggested the men were arrested in connection with alleged terror offences abroad. However, police have not confirmed this.

A spokesman for Viva Palestina, the group organising the convoy, said: "We are concerned about the arrests, but until such time as things become clearer it's very difficult to say more.

"The police haven't been in touch with us about it and we don't have any personal knowledge of the people involved."