Police cordon
West Yorkshire Police have detained the 14-year-old suspectReuters

Hundreds of school children were evacuated today after two suspicious packages were discovered near a primary school and a British mosque.

Bomb disposal squads inspected two suspect explosive devices in Exeter city centre in Devon this morning.

A large suitcase was found on railings outside St Sidwell's Primary School just before 7am by school caretaker Brent Hibbs who claimed he saw "wires coming out of it".

A second package, also a large suitcase, was found at a car park in the city centre close to the Princesshay shopping centre.

The shopping area was the site of an earlier explosion in 2008 where Muslim extremist Nicky Reilly planted a bomb.

St Sidwell's Primary School was evacuated and closed for the day and the children were taken to a nearby chapel and church before being collected by their parents.

Police then set up a 100-metre exclusion zone around neighbouring streets and closed Exeter Mosque which is situated close to the school grounds.

Devon and Cornwall Police confirmed that the reports of potential explosives resulted in an extensive eight-hour operation involving police, bomb disposal experts, fire and ambulance services.

Several roads across the city were closed and properties evacuated until both devices were "made safe". Local residents and store staff were instructed to stay away from their homes, businesses and the school after the alarm was raised just before 7am.

Superintendent Keith Perkin, police commander for Exeter, Mid and East Devon, said: "Today's events have caused considerable impact to residents and business across the city. We don't underestimate how difficult road closures and evacuations can be for local people, but safety of all our communities remains paramount."

He said the incident was not yet being treated as terrorist-related, however that could change.

Shoppers said they were shocked to be turned away from the city centre in light of recent terrorist incidents.

Karen Hoskins, 46, said: "It's extremely concerning considering what's happened in Tunisia and France. It's worrying as it was so close to a school."

St Sidwell's headmistress Mrs Rowden praised staff and children for cooperating in the emergency.

She said: "Obviously our first thoughts were for the safety of the children and staff. Our staff did an excellent job in evacuating the children quickly and efficiently.

"I cannot comment on the motive for this. But I would point out that is a Church of England school and we have children of all faiths, and some with no faith, who learn together and play together very harmoniously.

"I want to thank our parents for their support and the children for taking this all in their stride."

Residents reported hearing what sounded like a controlled explosion at midday and another at around 1.20pm.

Describing the scene Jeremy George, 29, of Exeter, said: "We heard the bomb squad detonate a couple of things. They were loud bangs but apart from that nothing else has really happened. They won't tell us anything and no one seems to know what is going on.

"I don't know if they were targeting the mosque but because of the location of the devices it seems like they might have. The mosque is a peaceful place though and there is never any trouble with it."

Police announced the second package was 'safely dealt with' at 1.20pm and confirmed both packages had been 'made safe' at 3.30pm.

A force spokesman said: "Following assessment by bomb disposal experts, the devices found on York Road and King William Street in Exeter have been made safe. The scene cordons are now being reduced to the immediate scenes of the incidents as a result.

"Road closures around the city centre will begin to be lifted shortly, although traffic congestion in the run-up to rush hour is expected to take some time to be cleared. Police would like to thank all residents for their patience and co-operation throughout today."

The Rt Revd Robert Atwell, the Bishop of Exeter, this evening criticised those responsible for the incident.

He said: "I deplore what appears to have been an attempt to spread fear and confusion across Exeter, particularly one which has targeted children at a primary school. I commend the head teacher and staff at St Sidwell's for their calm handling of the situation.

"Crude attempts like this try to undermine the community spirit that binds us together, but they will always fail. We must resist fear and respond to it by strengthening the ties between us. As we see from tragedies such as that in Tunisia, the impulse of the human spirit to help others, even in the worst possible circumstances, will always triumph."

Anyone with information about today's incident in Exeter is asked to contact Devon and Cornwall Police on 101.