FBI: Man left jar filled with explosive chemicals, nails at North Carolina airport

Michael Christopher Estes

Buncombe County Sheriff's Office

Last Updated Oct 10, 2017 1:24 PM EDT

RALEIGH, N.C. -- A man planted a Mason jar filled with explosive chemicals and nails at a western North Carolina airport last week and vowed to "fight a war on U.S. soil," according to court documents released Tuesday.

The criminal complaint written by an FBI agent said investigators found the improvised explosive device Friday morning at the Asheville airport near a terminal entrance. Asheville police bomb technicians then rendered it safe.

The complaint accuses Michael Christopher Estes of attempted malicious use of explosive materials and unlawful possession of explosives at an airport.

Estes was arrested Saturday, and the complaint says he admitted leaving the explosive device at the airport. The complaint states that Estes "claimed he was getting ready to 'fight a war on U.S. soil,'" but didn't elaborate on this alleged motive.

He was being held at the Buncombe County jail without bond after a brief court hearing Tuesday. Jail records list him as a 46-year-old Native American. 

A federal public defender assigned to the case, Fredilyn Sison, didn't immediately return messages seeking comment.

Court documents say authorities found the improvised explosive device around 7 a.m. Friday at Asheville Regional Airport. It contained ammonium nitrate and Sterno fuel, along with steel wool that was then wrapped around nails and a .410 gauge Winchester shotgun cartridge, the complaint says.

An alarm clock was taped to the outside of the jar with matches attached to the arm that strikes the bells, according to court documents. The alarm had been set for Friday at 6, the complaint says.

Surveillance video showed Estes dressed in black pants, a jacket and black hat approaching the terminal entrance shortly after 12:30 a.m. Friday and appearing to leave behind a bag, the FBI agent wrote. In nearby woods, investigators later found a backpack and tool kit containing similar items to what was used in the explosive device: tape, Sterno fuel and more shotgun shells. Investigators determined such items had been purchased at nearby stores earlier in the week, providing more surveillance video.

Detectives searched the Walmart, Lowes and REI stores where they say he purchased materials for his device. The materials were paid for in cash at all three stores, but Estes allegedly used his REI membership number while making the purchase there, allowing officials to learn his identity.  

Authorities released a photograph made from the surveillance video, and tips from the public led them to Estes, who was arrested Saturday near one of the stores.  

The complaint said Estes waived his Miranda rights, answering questions and admitting to building and planting the device.

"Estes described how he created the device ... and then rigged the alarm clock to strike the matches and cause the flame necessary to trigger the device," the complaint states. "More specifically, the alarm clock would go off, the matches would strike, the Sterno would heat up, and then the Ammonium Nitrate would explode."

However, Estes also claimed that he hadn't actually set the device to go off, the complaint says. He told investigators that he had staged himself in the woods near the airport in the days before planting the device.

A man who answered the phone at a listing for Estes in Tazewell, Tennessee, said he didn't know the suspect.

The investigation led to an evacuation of the airport's baggage claim and the lobby area Friday, reports CBS affiliate WSPA. 

"I've flown out here several times and its always felt really safe," passenger Ashley Kuykendall told the station on Friday evening. "I would never think that anything like that would happen here."