Close to Home
Right off the bat, I’ll note that this story hits too close to home for comfort. This week, federal law enforcement agents arrested a man after he tried to bring explosives aboard an aircraft on a flight originating at Lehigh Valley International Airport in Pennsylvania and heading to Sanford, Florida. The targeted aircraft was Allegiant Air Flight 201. I often fly Allegiant Air out of Sanford. So does my family. As a native Pennsylvanian, I’ve been in and out of Lehigh Valley International Airport more than a few times. The incident reminded me why security checks are so tight before we board an aircraft.
Arrest records show that on February 27th, the TSA contacted the FBI after they identified what they thought to be a hidden explosive device in a checked bag at Lehigh Valley International Airport in Pennsylvania. The destination of the flight associated with the bag was Sanford, Florida, some 30 miles North of Orlando.
The man whose suitcase triggered the TSA alert is 40-year-old Mark Muffley. The bag was checked in at the Allegiant Airline desk, where it immediately raised suspicion with the TSA. Agents checked the rolling suitcase and found the following: a “circular compound, approximately three inches in diameter, wrapped in a wax-like paper and clear plastic wrap hidden in the lining of the baggage.” Agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation were immediately called on sight to investigate the strange finding. They found a granular powder concealed within the wax paper. That powder was consistent in appearance with powders used in commercial-grade fireworks. The bag never made it onboard the aircraft.
Muffley was overhead paged around 11:40 AM and told to report to the airport’s security desk. Instead, at 11:45, surveillance cameras show him exiting the building through a lower-level exit. Did he take off and hide? No, he went back home. FBI agents contacted the Carbon County chief of detectives, and it turns out he knew Muffley personally. The chief was asked if Muffley’s home address matched what was shown on his driver’s license, and he confirmed that it did. Later that night, federal agents arrested the man at his home without incident.
What the Feds Found
When the TSA determined they may be dealing with a potential explosive device, they cleared that area of the airport. Bomb technicians who investigated the bag said that in addition to the hidden powder consistent with commercial-grade fireworks, they found a pipe with white residue, two CGFI outlets wrapped together with black tape, a wireless drill with lithium batteries, and a can of butane. A fuse was attached to the package containing the powder.
Bomb technicians were quoted by CNN as saying that the item “was indeed a live explosive device.”
A Relatively Minor Criminal Record
Local police in Lansford, PA, were familiar with Mr. Muffley. Over the past decade, he had been charged more than half a dozen times for crimes such as petty theft, harassment, possession of controlled substances, and misdemeanor domestic issues. In an interview with CNN, former Lansford Chief of Police Jack Soberick stated, “There’s nothing that would light up and say, ‘Hey, this guy’s gonna try to bomb an aircraft.’ I don’t think he’s radicalized or anything like that.”
NBC News 10 out of Philadelphia fills us in on a number of details in the report below.
According to The Washington Post, Muffley admitted to FBI agents that he knew the objects were in his luggage. He claimed the white powder found on the pipe was “amphetamine” residue. Prosecutors say they believe Muffley may have violated two federal statutes. One prohibits any individual from “possessing, or attempting to place, or attempting to have placed, an explosive or incendiary device on an aircraft.” The other prohibits individuals from possessing explosives at an airport regulated by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). If convicted on both counts, he could be looking at a maximum of 15 years in prison.
The Federal Court Hearing
At Muffley’s federal court hearing on Thursday, Assistant United States Attorney Sherri A. Stephan is quoted as saying, “The danger he created…is simply astonishing. The fact TSA (the Transportation Security Administration) was able to immediately locate this device and prevent it from being placed on an airplane is to their credit.” US Magistrate Pamela A. Carlos decided to detain Muffley without bail, citing that she found him to be a flight risk and a danger to the community.
What Possible Reason?
At this point in the story, you might be wondering what possible reason Mr. Muffley might have provided in his defense. I mean, how could you possibly justify having explosive powder rigged to a wick alongside a can of butane sewn into a hidden compartment in your luggage? Muffley’s attorney told the court that his client only wanted to set off fireworks on a Florida beach while visiting his ailing grandfather.
All suspects are considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
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