‘For God & Country’ read bomb planted at Asheville’s airport. Defendant explains why.

A Tennessee man pleaded guilty Friday to a federal charge after authorities said he planted a bomb at Asheville’s airport last fall.

Michael Christopher Estes, 46, carried an explosive device in two plastic bags that he placed outside the entrance to the airport’s baggage claim area on Oct. 6, according to a news release from U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray of North Carolina’s Western District.

Inside the bags were nails, a shotgun shell and “material that is known to explode violently when coming in contact with flame,” Murray’s office said. The Asheville Citizen-Times reported the material as ammonium nitrate and fuel oil in a Mason jar.

“FOR GOD & COUNTRY” was scrawled on the strike strip of a matchbox attached to the device. “FOR ALL THE V/N VETS OUT THERE!!!” was written on tape attaching part of a clock to the device. The clock’s alarm was positioned at 6 o’clock but was not set.

Michael Christopher Estes Buncombe County Detention Center

Airport police were alerted to the suspicious package. Police evacuated passengers and employees from the baggage claim area, and bomb technicians disarmed the device.

Estes, arrested the next day not far away, admitted in court Friday that he had constructed the device and placed it at the airport, Murray’s office said. Court documents state he had also explained to police why he acted, the office said.

Estes, who formerly lived in Tazewell, Tenn., told investigators that he believed terrorists were coming to the U.S. to “fight a war on U.S. soil.” He believed, according to court documents, that federal agencies were unprepared to fight. He intended, Estes told investigators, to help train law officers without hurting anybody.

By planting a device that would be spotted by police, he told authorities, they would “now know how” such a device was made. He admitted to leaving a backpack containing some of the materials he used, also found by police, in woods across from the airport.

Estes had been jailed just days before the incident on charges that he attacked a man with a hatchet and knife in Swain County, the Citizen-Times reported. He had also been charged with breaking and entering and larceny.

On Friday, Murray’s office said, Estes pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful possession of explosive material. He faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. A sentencing date has not been set.

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender