December 13, 2013

Kansas airport worker arrested in car bomb attempt

The worker, Terry Loewen, was arrested when he attempted to drive onto the tarmac with what he believed were explosives.

Associated Press

WICHITA, Kan. – A Kansas man who prosecutors say sympathized with violent terrorists was arrested Friday as part of an FBI sting after he drove a vehicle loaded with what he thought were explosives to a Wichita airport.

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In this undated photo provided by the Sedgwick County, Kan., Clerk’s Office, a booking mugshot of Terry Lee Loewen is seen. The 58-year-old avionics technician who worked at the airport for aviation firm Hawker Beechcraft, was arrested before dawn Friday, Dec 13, 2013, as he tried to enter the tarmac on Wichita’s Mid-Continent Regional airport in Wichita, Kan., in a vehicle he believed was loaded with high explosives.

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U.S. attorney Barry Grissom announces the arrest of Terry Lee Loewen, 58, of Wichita, Kansas., during a news conference . Grissom said Loewen was arrested Friday morning at Mid-Continent regional airport where he planned to drive a car that he believed was full of explosives into a terminal at the airport.

AP Photo

Investigators allege that Terry Lee Loewen planned to attack Wichita's Mid-Continent Regional airport was aimed at supporting al-Qaida.

Loewen, a 58-year-old avionics technician who worked at the airport for Hawker Beechcraft, was arrested before dawn as he tried to drive into the tarmac. The materials in the car were inert, and no one at the airport was in any immediate danger, authorities said.

Loewen, who lives in Wichita, had been under investigation for about six months after making online statements about wanting to commit "violent jihad" against the United States, U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said. Eventually, an undercover FBI agent befriended Loewen, striking up conversations about terrorism and Loewen's admiration for those who plotted violence against American interests.

Authorities said Loewen spent months studying the layout of the airport, its flight patterns and other details to maximize fatalities and damage in an attack. During that time, he developed a plan with other conspirators to use his employee access card to pull off the attack. The conspirators were actually undercover FBI agents.

Loewen planned to die in the explosion, a fate that he said was inevitable in his quest to become a martyr in a jihad against America, according to court documents.

"Since early summer, he was resolved to take an act of violent jihad against U.S.," Grissom said.

Authorities said they believe Loewen acted alone. No other arrests were expected.

Loewen made an initial court appearance Friday afternoon, answering "yes" in a strong voice to procedural questions. A U.S. magistrate ordered that he remain jailed at least until a hearing next Friday after prosecutors said he was a flight risk and a danger to the community.

His wife and attorney declined comment after the hearing.

His brother-in-law, David Reddig, described Loewen as a "good guy." He said Loewen helped him pay off the debt on his truck and took care of his home and chickens after an eye injury kept him from working.

"He is a hard worker and all that stuff," Reddig said.

But he said Loewen routinely kept details of his life away from other relatives.

The case appears to be similar to a string of cases in the law enforcement world of post-9/11, where wide use of FBI sting operations has prompted frequent controversy over balancing the needs of law enforcement and civil liberties. One involved an undercover agent pretending to be a terrorist who provided a teenager with a phony car bomb, then watched him plant it in downtown Chicago and press a trigger.

Critics of the tactics — defense attorneys and civil liberties groups — say the FBI is engaging in systematic violations of peoples' constitutional rights by luring targets into committing crimes. The FBI, in turn, says the stings are a vital law enforcement tool that has averted potentially deadly terrorist attacks.

In Loewen's case, court documents allege that he talked about downloading documents about jihad, martyrdom and an al-Qaida "manual" during his online conversations.

Investigators said he also frequently expressed admiration for Anwar Al-Awlaki, the American-born al-Qaida leader who was killed in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen. Al-Awlaki emerged as an influential preacher among militants living in the West, with his English language Internet sermons calling for jihad, or holy war, against the U.S.

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