Feds weigh felony charges for oil worker caught with IED at Anchorage airport

thanlon@adn.comFebruary 18, 2014 

Federal authorities are calling the explosive found in an oil-worker's carry-on Sunday at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport an improvised explosive device, or IED, and are weighing felony charges.

The unidentified man ticketed for Deadhorse didn't intend to bring the IED with him on the airplane and told officials that he uses the homemade explosive for avalanche control, but not necessarily on the North Slope, said Michael Graham, resident agent in charge at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for Alaska.

"It was a mistake," Graham said in an interview Tuesday. "There was no malicious intent behind the possession of this."

Still, Graham said he has never received reports of any other individuals using IEDs for avalanche mitigation work. He could not say if the man made the IED himself.

When ATF agents searched the man's home, they found four similar devices. If the ATF determines them "destructive" -- an explosive contained in some sort of container or vessel that could cause damage to people -- he could face up to 10 years in prison for possession of an unregistered destructive device, Graham said.

Screeners at the airport's only security checkpoint first spotted the IED at 1:55 p.m. Sunday. The man, whose name has still not been released, had a ticket for a Shared Services oil worker transport flight.

Officers closed the area and enforced a 300-foot buffer around it. The citywide Explosive Ordinance Disposal team took the device offsite. The shutdown likely caused some passengers to miss flights, said Anchorage International manager John Parrott.

"The story of why you have this device that is clearly not allowed on an aircraft and why you are taking it through screening ... whatever you say doesn't change the fact that this device was headed to an airplane," Parrott said.

Agents from the ATF and FBI responded. Graham said agents determined it was not a case of domestic terrorism after initial interviews with the man. The ATF took the lead and an investigation is proceeding, Graham said.

The ATF will present its findings to the U.S. Attorney's Office in about a week and then prosecutors will decide whether or not to press charges.

The man's identity is being withheld until a determination on charges is made.

ConocoPhillips operates Shared Services, a co-venture between the company and BP that transports more than 20,000 employees and contract workers between Anchorage, Fairbanks and the North Slope every month, said Amy Burnett, a Conoco spokeswoman.

Burnett said she did not know how many workers were ticketed for the flight, but the plane could accommodate 136 people.

"I really can't speculate about what happened in this case or why the passenger had the device with him other than to say the investigation determined that he didn't intend any ill will," she said Tuesday.

The Anchorage airport's last bomb scare happened in October 2012 when airport police evacuated the building after a Colorado hockey referee commented about a bomb in his friend's luggage.

Parrott said the airport was not evacuated Sunday because screeners could tell that the device lacked a detonator.

"Detonator? No," Graham said, but "there's more than one way to set these things off.

"Possession and manufacture of these things is illegal and dangerous. There are many people in the U.S. that are killed and maimed every year with these kinds of things."

Reach Tegan Hanlon at thanlon@adn.com or 257-4589.

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