Authorities say Yongda Huang Harris, 28, arrived at LAX on a flight from Japan Friday wearing a bulletproof vest and flame retardant pants under a trench coat. According to an Eyewitness News source, Harris was on an Asiana flight from Japan to LAX via Inchon, Korea.
U.S. customs officials immediately alerted federal authorities. A search of Harris' checked luggage turned up with several suspicious items, including a smoke grenade, hatchet, knives, gas mask, handcuffs, collapsible baton, body bags and a device to repel dogs.
When the LAPD bomb squad examined the smoke grenade, they found that it was classified under the United Nations' explosives shipping classification and was prohibited on any passenger aircraft. Officials say under certain conditions, the smoke grenade could have filled the cabin of a commercial airplane with smoke or caused a fire.
"After hitting two flights, somebody saw him. He had to go through screening in those countries to get on the plane and why it didn't raise any suspicion with screeners, we're still trying to figure out, " said Cmdr. Blake Chow of the Los Angeles Police Department's counter-terrorism bureau.
Harris, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Chinese descent, has been charged with one count of transporting hazardous materials. The charge carries a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison.
He made his first court appearance on Tuesday, but the hearing was postponed until Friday because he had not had a chance to meet with his attorney.
Investigators said Harris is not cooperating, but they did find some evidence in his luggage that may provide some clues.
"There were some documents found in there that led us to believe that he was drawing diagrams of schools in Japan and some open fields, you know, things like that that arouse a little suspicion," said Chow.
Authorities said Harris has been working in Japan recently but was bound for Boston, where he lives. Neighbors said there were never any red flags.
"Nice people. I'm honestly kind of surprised about hearing about all this," said neighbor Gadisa Goso.
Investigators said so far they have not found any connections to terrorism.