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Military expert with explosives in airport was in prior incident

January 3, 2012 | 10:38 am

AtwaterA military demolitions expert who faces charges in Texas that he tried to bring explosives onto a civilian aircraft was involved in another incident of attempting to transport contraband on an airplane, federal officials said on Tuesday.

Trey Scott Atwater, who completed three military deployments in Afghanistan, is scheduled to be arraigned in district court late Tuesday afternoon, FBI Special Agent Michael Martinez said in a telephone interview from El Paso. Martinez said he could not give any other details except that Atwater would be charged with a felony of trying to bring explosives onto a flight.

Atwater, 30, was arrested Saturday at a security checkpoint at Midland International Airport after explosives in military-grade wrapping were discovered in his luggage. Atwater, who told investigators that he was an explosives expert, said he was surprised to find the explosives, believed to be C-4, in the military bag, which he grabbed to transport children’s items, according to the criminal complaint filed Tuesday with the U.S. District Court for West Texas.

The complaint goes on to state that the Midland incident was Atwater’s second over the holidays.

Atwater, of Hope Mills, N.C., was briefly detained Dec. 24 at the airport in Fayetteville, N.C., when he was flying to his relatives’ home in Midland. Screeners found a military smoke grenade in his bag. The grenade was confiscated, and Atwater was admonished but allowed to continue his trip to Texas, the complaint states.

Atwater’s rank has not been officially released, but the complaint notes that he served with the 7th Special Forces Group and returned to the United States in April after his third deployment in Afghanistan. He is believed to be assigned to Ft. Bragg in North Carolina, where special operations forces are located.

According to the complaint, Atwater was stopped at about 9:30 a.m. on New Year’s Eve at the Midland airport by Transportation Safety Administration employees. Atwater was heading to Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport. In his carry-on luggage was material with military markings showing it was C-4.

Atwater explained that he had not used the bag since returning from Afghanistan, but that it was standard operating procedure to keep two blocks of C-4 in it while on the battlefield. He said he had grabbed the bag, which had been stored in a garage, to carry children’s items on the flight and did not notice any explosives in the main compartment of the bag.

When investigators later asked him about the incident involving the smoke grenade, Atwater acknowledged that it had happened. He said that he had forgotten to mention it in his earlier interview with officials, the complaint states.

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-- Michael Muskal

Photo: Trey Scott Atwater. Credit: Midland County Sheriff's Office

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