Eleven men have been arrested by police during coordinated raids targeting loyalist paramilitaries in Belfast.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) also seized drugs, cash and expensive cars and jewellery in an operation against the criminal activities of the East Belfast Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).

A total of 14 searches were conducted in Belfast, Newtownards and Comber from early morning on Friday.

The suspects, who are aged between 22 and 48, were taken into police custody for questioning.

PSNI Detective Superintendent Bobby Singleton said £15,000 of suspected cocaine had been seized, along with a number of high value vehicles, and expensive clothing and jewellery.

He said a significant quantity of cash had also been seized.

The raids were undertaken by the PSNI’s specialist Paramilitary Crime Task Force.

Mr Singleton said: “Paramilitaries claim to protect local people but in reality they exploit them by supplying illegal drugs and using violence to try and control their markets.

“East Belfast UVF are nothing more than a drugs gang who operate under a flag of convenience in an attempt to legitimise their existence.

“Working with our partners and communities we are determined to rid our communities of these parasites.”

Police have said the operation was indirectly linked to the murder of Belfast community worker Ian Ogle.

Mr Ogle, 45, died after being beaten and stabbed 11 times shortly after praying with a pastor near his home in Cluan Place in east Belfast on January 27.

Police have linked the crime to the East Belfast UVF.

Mr Singleton said those arrested would have associations with some of those held by detectives investigating Mr Ogle’s killing.

“The PSNI are on record as saying we believe members of East Belfast UVF were responsible for Ian Ogle’s murder,” he said.

“So when we have an operation directed at their criminal activities it’s entirely foreseeable that people will be connected.”