North Carolina man claims airport explosive was part of ‘training scenario’
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A man admitted in court Friday to leaving an explosive device at a western North Carolina airport last year, claiming his crime was a “training scenario” meant to show that law enforcement agents weren’t ready to stop terrorist attacks.
Michael Christopher Estes pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful possession of explosive material. Another charge he originally faced — attempted malicious use of explosives — was dropped. The 46-year-old from Tennessee faces up to five years in prison at sentencing, which hasn’t been scheduled yet.
Court documents filed this week with his plea agreement reveal new details about why Estes left the Mason jar with explosives and nails at the Asheville airport in October.
Estes told investigators he wanted to show authorities how easy it was to place the explosives because he believed terrorists were coming and Americans would have to “fight a war on U.S. soil,” according to court documents. Authorities wrote documents that a timing device on the explosive hadn’t actually been set to go off.
“He was adamant that his intention was not to hurt the public but to devise a training scenario,” prosecutors wrote. “He believed that the country was under constant threat and the agencies were not getting adequate training to do their job.”
The words “FOR GOD & COUNTRY” were written on parts of the device that included Sterno fuel and ammonium nitrate, as well as shotgun shells and nails to serve as shrapnel, according to court documents. It was rigged with a clock that had matches attached to a striker arm and could be set to ignite when the alarm went off, investigators wrote. Another message on the device said “FOR ALL THE V/N VETS OUT THERE!!!” in an apparent reference to Vietnam War veterans.
The explosive didn’t go off, but caused a scare at the airport. Surveillance video shows Estes, wearing a black hat and clothes, leaving the device outside near the entrance to a baggage claim shortly after 12:30 a.m. on Oct. 6.
About six hours later, police were alerted to the suspicious bag, according to court documents. Passengers and employees evacuated the area while bomb technicians rendered the explosive safe.
Authorities released a photograph made from the video and tips from the public led them to Estes, who was arrested the next day. Estes admitted to buying the materials to make the device at stores in the area.
A lawyer representing Estes didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment left Friday.