Undated booking mugshot of Terry Lee Loewen, 58, of Wichita, Kan. The avionics technician was arrested Dec. 13, 2013, and accused of plotting a suicide bomb attack at the city's airport.
(Photo: Sedgwick County, Kan., Clerk's Office/AP)
Wichita, Kansas (USA TODAY) -- A 58-year-old Wichita avionics technician allegedly plotting an al-Qaeda suicide car bombing at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport was arrested Friday morning as he tried to drive onto the tarmac in a vehicle he thought was loaded with explosives.
Terry Lee Loewen, who works at Hawker Beechcraft Services at the airport, was arrested at 5:40 a.m. CT in an FBI sting operation involving undercover agents posing as members of Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Authorities described him as a "lone wolf."
The alleged plot, which included discussions of having another suicide bomber inside the airport terminal, was timed for just before Christmas "to cause maximum carnage + death," Loewen wrote Wednesday in a letter he left for his family, the FBI said.
"My only explanation is that I believe in jihad for the sake of Allah + for the sake of my Muslim brothers + sisters," Loewen wrote. "Fact is, most Muslims in this country will condemn what I have done. ... I expect to be called a terrorist (which I am), a psychopath, and a homicidal maniac."
U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said Loewen had been under investigation and surveillance since early summer, when he allegedly stated he wanted to "commit an act of violent jihad" against the United States. Grissom said air travelers and airport workers were never in danger, because the bomb had been "rendered inert'' before Loewen arrived at the airport.
He was charged in federal court in Wichita with one count of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, one count of attempting to damage property by means of an explosive and one count of attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization. He made an initial court appearance Friday afternoon and is being held without bail until a hearing Dec. 20.
If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of life in federal prison.
The Justice Department said Loewen studied the airport layout and took photos of access points, researched flight schedules and acquired components to make car bombs. He had a security card that provided access to restricted areas of the airport, the largest in Kansas.
He allegedly planned to load his car with explosives, drive to the terminal near a number of passenger planes and then detonate the explosives. Authorities said Loewen had planned to set off the bomb when the airport was most crowded.
In a Nov. 8 meeting with one of two undercover FBI agents, Loewen "indicated that he was interested in becoming a martyr (i.e. dying in the attack), but that he needed to make sure that there was a reason for him to be martyred," the court complaint states.
While the case remains under investigation, no additional arrests are anticipated. Loewen is not associated with any religious group in Wichita, Grissom said.
In online conversations with one undercover FBI agent, Loewen shared his views on Islam and what he called his fellow Muslims' "denial" about their duty.
"I have been studying subjects like jihad, martyrdom operations, and Sharia law," he wrote Aug. 5. "I don't understand how you can read the Qur'an and the sunnah of the Prophet and not understand that jihad and the implementation of Sharia is absolutely demanded of all the Muslim Ummah (people). ..
"I do agree on one thing; the one thing we are doing wrong is that all 1.5 billion of us don't rise up against the rest of the world and tell THEM how it's going to be."
He concluded by declaring, "I believe the Muslim who is labeled 'a radical fundamentalist' is closer to Allah than the ones labeled 'moderates.' Just my opinion; if l'm off base, please set me straight."
Other exchanges showed Loewen was concerned about being watched, how to trust the alleged al-Qaeda "brother" and whether he was being set up:
l'm just Allah's slave, and not a very good one at that. I have one question: How do you really know who I am or what my agenda really is? I pray to Allah(swt) every night that l'm not being misled, and if I am, that He will make it very apparant (sic) to me.
I trust you but part of me wants to trust ANYBODY who says they believe what I do because those kind of people are SO rare, and thirst for that. I'm sorry I can't say I trust you 100%; my greatest fear is not being able to complete an operation because I was set up. I hate this government so much for what they have done to our brothers and sisters, that to spent (sic) the rest of my life in prison without having taken a good slice out of the serpents head is unacceptable to me. ...
Loewen also acknowledged that "spending my remaining years behind bars for a good reason is not out of the question for me."
He and his wife live on a quiet street behind the Wichita Mall, and neighbors said they didn't mingle, The Wichita Eagle reported.
"Kinda different," is how Richard McKown described them.
"This is a pretty close-knit neighborhood, but they kind of kept to themselves," he said. "You'd see them come and go. Sometimes they'd wave. Sometimes they wouldn't."
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