By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - Federal prosecutors dismissed all charges on Friday against an Army Special Forces sergeant who was arrested at a Texas airport on New Year's Eve with 2.5 pounds of the military explosive C-4 in his carry-on luggage.
Trey Atwater, 30, a demolitions expert stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, had been charged with attempting to board an aircraft with an explosive device, a felony carrying a punishment of up to 10 years in prison.
Atwater told the FBI he was unaware the explosives were in his bag, which he grabbed from his North Carolina home when he prepared to fly home to Texas for the Christmas holidays. Airport screeners apparently failed to detect the C-4 on the outbound flight to his hometown of Midland.
U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman told Reuters an extensive investigation by the FBI revealed that the explosive, widely used in demolition and urban combat missions in Afghanistan, was inserted into the backpack when Atwater was on active duty in that country.
Pitman said Atwater, who has served three tours of duty in Afghanistan with the Army Special Forces, had apparently forgotten the C-4 was there when he grabbed the backpack out of the garage of his home in North Carolina.
"Under the standards applicable to this prosecution, the government believes it cannot be proved that Atwater committed a criminal offense," Pitman said. He said the lot number of the C-4 in Atwater's backpack matched a lot number which had been 'exclusively shipped to Afghanistan.'
E. Jason Leach, Atwater's Texas-based attorney, did not immediately return a call to his office requesting comment.
"Atwater's work record shows that he has been an above average soldier in many respects, with excellent ratings in most individual categories and recent overall ratings of among the best," Pitman said. "Nothing in his records raises questions about his stability."
Pitman said while the motion filed today will end the criminal charges facing Atwater, he "will likely face administrative or other measures by the U.S. Army."
Atwater spent several days in jail in Midland following his arrest, and was later released by a federal magistrate to the custody of Army officials at Fort Bragg.
(Editing By Cynthia Johnston)