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June 28, 2017

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London, Paris reel from fresh terror attacks

LONDON/PARIS — The Champs-Elysees avenue in central Paris was sealed off on Monday afternoon after a driver rammed a gendarmerie van. The driver's car caught fire after he hit the police van, and he was later confirmed dead.

Meanwhile, in London, a 47-year-old man was charged with terrorism following an attack with a van on Muslim pedestrians near Finsbury Park Mosque in the city's north.

French Attack

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said that weapons and explosives were found inside the vehicle.

No police or members of the public were reported to have been injured.

Footage from the scene, screened by broadcaster BFMTV, showed intense flames coming from the passenger compartment of a saloon car and police apparently attempting to pull the driver out.

Anti-terrorism prosecutors are investigating the incident, Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said.

Police warned the public to stay away from the Champs-Elysees, a popular tourist attraction.

The incident took place close to the Elysee Palace, where President Emmanuel Macron was due to receive King Abdallah of Jordan a few hours later.

Police said that the driver of a Renault Megane passed out a convoy of gendarmerie vehicles before turning and crashing into the lead police van, at which point his car caught fire.

"It seems to have been a deliberate act by this individual," Brandet said.

French security forces are on high alert after a series of deadly attacks since early 2015, most of them claimed by the Islamic State extremist organization, which have killed over 230 people.

In April a gunman shot a police officer dead on the Champs-Elysees, three days before the first round of the French presidential election.

The gunman in that attack had previous convictions for attempted murder of police officers not related to terrorism, but authorities said a piece of paper found near his body bore a message of support for Islamic State, which claimed the killing.

Earlier this month a man wielding a hammer attacked police officers on patrol outside Notre Dame cathedral, injuring one before being shot and seriously injured himself.

A judicial source said that attacker, whom officials said was a doctoral student who had shown no previous signs of radicalisation, had made a video swearing allegiance to Islamic State.

London Attack

In London, the Metropolitan Police said the detained man was initially arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, but he was later charged with the "commission, preparation or instigation of terrorism including murder and attempted murder."

"At this stage in the investigation, it is believed that the suspect acted alone but we are of course investigating all the circumstances leading up to the attack," the force said in a statement.

Officers were searching a residential address in the Cardiff area, after the suspect injured 11 people in the attack on Muslims who had just left late-night prayers.

A man who died in the incident, after his legs were trapped under the van, had been sitting on the pavement while he was receiving first aid before the attack, police said.

The van used in the attack was reportedly hired in Wales.

Additional police were deployed near mosques in London and other cities following the attack.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said "people in the Muslim community, attending prayers, will see their police protecting them in coming days."

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