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Two arrested with explosives in van during Philadelphia protests - police

·2-min read

(Reuters) - Two men have been charged with explosives offenses over a suspected plot to use civil unrest over the police shooting of a Black man as cover to rob cash machines, Pennsylvania state Attorney General Josh Shapiro said.

The driver and passenger of a van were arrested on Wednesday with dynamite, a propane tank torch, a Taser and tools including electric drills, bolt cutters and machetes, Shapiro said in a statement late on Thursday.

"The explosives and tools recovered in the van are commonly used to attempt to dismantle and steal proceeds from ATMs (automated teller machines). There have been at least 30 ATM bombings in Philadelphia in the last four days," it said.

The two suspects appeared to be part of a larger ring of 10-15 vehicles that had set off from a parking lot in a convoy, it said, citing Philadelphia police who were responding to a commercial burglary alarm.

The convoy fled when police appeared and officers were able to stop only one of the vans with the two suspects inside.

The two were charged with felony possession of weapons of mass destruction, which under Pennsylvania law includes anything with a chemical element or compound that can cause harm or death, as well as conspiracy and risking a catastrophe.

"These individuals who have been charged today tried to use a message of justice to provide cover for their own gain," Shapiro said, referring to the street unrest over the police shooting of Walter Wallace.

"We will not allow criminals to hijack, and take advantage of, lawful protests as an opportunity to sow chaos."

Tension has gripped the streets of Philadelphia since Monday's incident, in which Wallace, 27, armed with a knife, was shot dead by two officers responding to what his relatives say was a call for help with a mental health crisis.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Mark Heinrich)