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Florida man charged in Delta flight bomb scare

By Jeremy Pelofsky

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A former U.S. Air Force intelligence specialist who served in Iraq and Afghanistan was charged with making bomb threats aboard a Delta Air Lines flight from Paris to Atlanta that was diverted to Maine on Tuesday, the Justice Department said on Wednesday.

Derek Stansberry, 27, of Florida was accused of claiming he had dynamite in boots in his backpack connected to a pressure trigger and that he also had explosives in his laptop, an FBI affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Maine said.

Delta Flight 273 was diverted to Bangor, Maine, where the plane and luggage were searched. No explosives were found. The passengers were forced to stay overnight in Maine and were due to arrive in Atlanta on Wednesday afternoon.

Stansberry was an Air Force senior airman and served as an intelligence specialist, Air Force spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Linda Pepin said. He was on active duty from June 2005 to June 2009 and received several decorations, including for service in Iraq and Afghanistan, Pepin added.

He was charged with interfering with a flight crew and making false statements about having an explosive device on the plane, according to court records. He could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted on the first charge and up to five years for the second one.

A federal judge ordered Stansberry temporarily held without bail. At his initial court appearance, Stansberry requested a competency exam be conducted, according to court records. A detention hearing is scheduled for May 3.

It was the first of two airline security incidents in as many days. A Continental flight from Houston to Washington was diverted to North Carolina on Wednesday after a threatening message written on a mirror in the bathroom was found. Authorities cleared that flight to continue on its way.

ADMITS TAKING SLEEPING PILLS

In the Delta incident, one air marshal reported that Stansberry had said he had taken eight Ambien sleeping pills and had previously used Valium but not during the flight. He later told the FBI he had taken one Ambien earlier that day.

The incident began when Stansberry passed a note to one of the flight attendants in which he said he was not an American citizen and had a fake passport. The crew turned the note over to one of the four U.S. air marshals on the jumbo jet.

He then made claims about explosives in his computer and boots. The air marshals moved the items to the rear of the plane and built a bunker around them in hopes it would dampen any effects of a possible explosion, the affidavit said.

During interviews with law enforcement agents, Stansberry told them he had top security clearances, had classified information, and other passengers on the plane had tried to interrogate him, though none had in fact talked to him, the court papers said.

"He decided to claim that he had a bomb in order to divert attention from the fact that he had classified information," the affidavit said.

(Additional reporting by Phillip Stewart; Editing by Will Dunham)

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