Soldier With Explosive In Carry-on Due In Court

Published January 6, 2012 9:18AM (EST)

MIDLAND, Texas (AP) — A North Carolina soldier who was arrested after a powerful, military-grade explosive was found in his carry-on luggage at a Texas airport could learn Friday whether he'll be released from federal custody.

Trey Scott Atwater is charged with trying to bring explosives onto an airplane, which carries a maximum 10-year federal prison sentence. Authorities said security officers at Midland International Airport found C4 explosives in his carry-on luggage Saturday. C4 is used in Iraq and Afghanistan to blow the hinges off doors or destroy unexploded ordinance.

According to court documents, Atwater told the FBI that he's a demolitions expert and had returned from his third tour in Afghanistan in April. He said his Army special forces team always carried C4, but he didn't know it was in his bag.

Atwater, 30, is scheduled to appear before a federal magistrate Friday afternoon in Midland during a detention hearing. Atwater grew up in Midland and was at the airport with his family to return home to Hope Mills, N.C. He is stationed at nearby Fort Bragg.

Atwater was stopped when a Transportation Security Administration agent spotted a suspicious item in his carry-on during passenger screening. A police bomb squad identified it as C4.

Court documents show that Atwater told FBI agents his special forces team always had at least two blocks of C4, but he didn't know any explosives were in his bag when he returned to Fort Bragg after his most recent deployment.

The bag had been in his garage since then, Atwater said, and he saw no explosives in the main compartment of the bag when he packed for his trip to Texas. He did not say where he got the C4, although his comments in court documents indicate he could have brought it from Afghanistan.

Atwater also was detained at the airport in Fayetteville, N.C., the city adjacent to the sprawling Army post, on Dec. 24 when security agents found a military smoke grenade in his carry-on bag. After the smoke grenade was confiscated, Atwater was "admonished" and allowed to fly to Texas, according to court documents.

Typically, bags are thoroughly searched and placed on X-ray machines for a second time after a suspicious item is found, although court documents do not say whether that was done in Atwater's case.

C4 looks like a block of clay and requires a blasting cap or detonator to explode. Combat troops have ready access to the explosive, which can also be used as fuel for heating water or rations.

The U.S. military forbids troops from taking C4 out of combat zones, but the screening process for troops heading home is not as stringent as for people flying on commercial airlines.

By Salon Staff

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