PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Two men have been charged for allegedly possessing illegal explosives after they were discovered inside a green van on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway late Wednesday night. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro says Brian Larue and Eric Murray have been charged with possession of weapons of mass destruction, conspiracy, and risking a catastrophe.
Prosecutors say Philadelphia police observed a caravan of 10 to 15 cars in the city Wednesday night try to ram a Target parking lot barricade.
Officers pursued the convoy to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway where the green conversion van pulled over and removed tape that was covering the vehicle’s license plate.
Officers stopped the van and a search revealed the suspects were holding “a quarter or half stick of dynamite,” a propane torch, a taser and various tools.
Prosecutors say the explosives and tools are commonly used to break into ATMs. Officials say there have been at least 30 ATM bombings in the city during the unrest following the police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr.
“These individuals who have been charged today tried to use a message of justice to provide cover for their own gain,” said Attorney General Shapiro. “This is an incredibly challenging time for communities in Philadelphia, across Southeast Pennsylvania, and around the country. We will not allow criminals to hijack, and take advantage of, lawful protests as an opportunity to sow chaos.”
Federal authorities are investigating whether more than a dozen stolen U-Hauls have any connection to illegal explosives found in Center City on Wednesday night. Investigators have found M-type explosive devices throughout the city since the recent unrest, and they’re working to put the pieces together.
“These devices are not firecrackers, these are dangerous, explosives materials that can cause serious physical injury and/or death,” Matthew Varisco, the ATF Special Agent in Charge of Philadelphia Field Division, said.
The Arson and Explosives Task Force, comprised of ATF, fire marshals and Philadelphia police detectives, combed the scene. Officials say the illegal explosive devices are not regulated by the ATF and are very dangerous.
“They create significant havoc to the community and they are a danger to the community,” Varisco said.
Officials say similar explosives have been used as vandalism tools to explode ATM machines in the past.
Investigators are also looking at 17 different stolen U-Haul van incidents and if they have a connection to the M-type devices that were found or may have been used to pack and run with stolen goods during the recent looting.
As they continue to piece this together, the ATF revealed that they do have two people in custody.
“There is no threat to the community right now. The two individuals are in custody,” Varisco said. “I want to commend the Philadelphia Police Department for their solid work in apprehending those two individuals and hopefully we’ll be able to provide some information later as to the specificity of those devices that were recovered and additional contents that were also found.”
ATF investigators are actively pursuing all leads. They’re also working with federal and state agencies to get to the bottom of this.
CBS3’s Alecia Reid contributed to this report.
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