MIDLAND, Texas — A soldier charged with trying to bring explosives on an airplane told investigators he used them in Afghanistan but didn't realize any were in a bag he brought back to the United States and apparently carried on a flight from North Carolina to Texas.
Trey Scott Atwater of Hope Mills, N.C., was arrested Saturday while trying to go through security at an airport in Texas on a return trip to North Carolina. Authorities say the 30-year-old had a carry-on bag containing C4, a powerful explosive used in Iraq and Afghanistan to blow the hinges off doors or destroy unexploded ordnance.
According to court documents, Atwater told the FBI he is a demolitions expert who returned from his third deployment to Afghanistan in April. He said his Army special forces team always carried at least two blocks of C4, but he didn't know any explosives were in his bag when he returned to his post at Fort Bragg, N.C.
He said the bag had been in his garage since then and he didn't see any explosives in the main compartment when he packed for his trip to Texas.
Atwater was detained at the Fayetteville, N.C., airport on Dec. 24 when security agents found a military smoke grenade in his carry-on bag. Court documents don't specify — and transportation officials wouldn't say Tuesday — whether investigators now suspect C4 was in Atwater's bag then or whether he acquired it later.
Atwater did not say where he got the C4, though his comments in court documents indicate he could have brought it from Afghanistan.
After the smoke grenade was confiscated, Atwater was "admonished" and allowed to fly to Texas, court documents said. He and his family were returning home when he was stopped at Midland International Airport.
A Transportation Security Administration agent spotted a suspicious item in his carry-on during screening, and a police bomb squad identified it as C4.
C4 looks like a block of clay and requires a blasting cap or detonator to explode. The U.S. military forbids troops from taking C4 out of combat zones. Documents do not say how much C4 was in Atwater's bag or whether there were blasting caps.
He was charged with trying to bring explosives onto an airplane, which carries a maximum 10-year federal prison sentence. His attorney declined to comment on the case.