Man plows car loaded with explosives into police van on Champs-Elysees

AFP-JIJI, Reuters

A car loaded with gas canisters rammed into a police van on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris on Monday, leaving the driver dead in what the interior minister said was an attempted attack.

Police sources told AFP that a Kalashnikov rifle, handguns and gas bottles were found in the white Renault Megane.

Video showed orange smoke pouring from the car after the impact as the vehicle sat in the middle of the prestigious avenue, which is lined with shops and cinemas.

The police and the army have consistently been attacked by extremists in France.

“Security forces have been targeted in France once again,” Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said, calling the incident an “attempted attack.

The weapons and explosives found in the vehicle “could potentially blow this car up,” he added.

Interior ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said bomb disposal experts were on the scene to “ensure the vehicle poses no further danger.”

Later, the doors of the car and the hood were open as it was searched.

No police or bystanders were injured in the incident near the Grand Palais exhibition hall.

“People were running every which way,” said a 51-year-old bystander who gave his name only as Alexandre. “Some shouted at me to get away.”

Anti-terrorism prosecutors have opened an investigation.

Police closed two of the Metro stations on the Champs-Elysees, but two hours after the attack tourists were back taking selfies of the Arc de Triomphe and visiting shops.

Collomb said the attack “shows once again that the threat (of an attack) remains extremely high in France.

The incident came just two months after a policeman was shot and killed on the avenue, days before the first round of France’s presidential election.

After that attack, a note praising the Islamic State group was found next to the body of the gunman, Karim Cheurfi, and weapons including a shotgun and knives were found in his car.

On June 7, a hammer-wielding Algerian man was shot and wounded by police after he struck an officer on the head in front of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, shouting it was in revenge “for Syria.

He had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in a video found at his home.

The attack Monday was the latest of a string in France and Britain.

Earlier Monday, a van plowed into a crowd of Muslims near a London mosque, injuring 10 people.

It was the second terror attack this month in the British capital.

Two weeks ago jihadis used a van and knives to crush and stab to death eight people enjoying a night out around London Bridge. Three of the victims were French.

In May, a suicide bomber killed 22 people, including children, at a concert by U.S. singer Ariana Grande in Manchester.

France remains under a state of emergency imposed after the November 2015 attacks in Paris, when Islamic State jihadis slaughtered 130 people in a night of carnage at venues across the city.

Previous major attacks targeted the Paris offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in January 2015.

A senior police officer and his girlfriend were both killed by a radicalized man at their home in the Paris suburbs a year ago.

And in July last year, a radicalized Tunisian man knocked down and killed 86 people as he rammed a truck through a crowd watching Bastille Day fireworks in the Riviera city of Nice.

On Wednesday, the French government is to unveil a new anti-terrorism law, designed to allow the state of emergency to be lifted.

“To those who question the necessity of such laws, you can see that the state of France today necessitates it,” Collomb said.

“If we want to effectively ensure the security of our citizens, we must be able to take a certain number of measures,” he added.

The driver who attacked police on the Champs-Elysees on Monday was a 31-year-old man who had been on a security watchlist since 2015 for membership of “the radical Islamist movement,” sources close to the probe said.

Footage on the Daiy Mail website later showed an officer stripping clothes off the body. It was unclear how the man had died. Nobody else was hurt.

The Paris prosecutor’s counterterrorism unit said an investigation had been opened into the Paris incident a short walk from the Elysee presidential palace and the U.S. Embassy.

The car hit the front of the van as it was overtaking a convoy of police vehicles, a police spokeswoman said.

Collomb said the man’s car was carrying weapons and explosives that could have caused a blast.

“This once again shows that the threat level in France is extremely high,” Collomb told journalists near the scene.

President Emmanuel Macron said last month his government would ask parliament to extend wider search and arrest powers granted under a state of emergency called after Islamist gunmen and suicide bombers killed 130 people in and around Paris in November 2015.

Some magistrates and human rights groups have protested against the proposal that would enshrine in ordinary law measures currently in place under the state of emergency.