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Man arrested in terror plot to blow up Wichita airport

By: KAKE News - Email
By: KAKE News - Email
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WICHITA, Kan. -- A Wichita man is in federal custody after authorities say he planned to blow up Mid-Continent Airport.

The U.S. Attorney's Office and FBI held a media briefing in downtown Wichita earlier today concerning the foiled terror plot.

U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom and Special Agent in Charge Michael Kaste of the FBI office in Kansas City announced charges against 58-year-old Terry Lee Loewen of Wichita, an avionics technician at Mid-Continent Airport.

Grissom said Loewen spent months planning the attack. He said Loewen studied the layout of the airport and flight schedules.

Grissom said Loewen planned to use his access card to enter airport property and detonate a vehicle filled with high explosives. He planned to pull the trigger on the explosives himself and die as a martyr.

Instead, he was arrested at 5:40 a.m. today at the airport by members of the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force.

Loewen was taken into custody as he tried to use his security card to enter the tarmac and deliver what he believed was a vehicle filled with explosives. Grissom said the devices were inert and would never explode. Loewen was arrested without incident.

Grissom said at no time was the public in any danger. He added there is no indication Loewen was involved with any religious community in Wichita.

Loewen is charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, attempting to damage property with explosives and attempting to provide material support to a foreign terror organization. If found guilty he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

READ THE FULL CRIMINAL COMPLAINT HERE

Loewen was arraigned Friday and will remain jailed for at least another week as the government prepares its case.

He appeared before Magistrate Judge Karen Humphreys and answered "yes" in a strong voice to various procedural questions.

A judge granted the government's request to keep Loewen detained at least until a hearing next Friday. Loewen was characterized as a flight risk and a danger to the community.

With black hair and a slight build, Loewen wore a hooded sweat jacket in court. His attorney and his wife also attended, but they both declined comment to reporters.

Loewen is an employee of the Hawker Beechcraft Services facility at Mid-Continent. A Beechcraft spokesperson said he has been suspended pending the outcome of the investigation, and that the company is working closely with federal authorities.

Prosecutors will present their case to the grand jury in federal court on Wednesday, December 18. Loewen will have preliminary and detention hearings on Friday, December 20.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

This is an excerpt of a statement he left for his family:


Below is the full release issued by the U.S. Attorney's Office:

WICHITA, KAN: A Wichita man has been charged in federal court with attempting to explode a car bomb at Wichita Mid Continent Airport, John Carlin, Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security and U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom announced today. The defendant was arrested as part of an FBI undercover investigation, and the device used by the defendant was, in fact, inert and at no time posed a danger to the public.

Terry Lee Loewen, 58, Wichita, Kan., is charged in a criminal complaint filed today in U.S. District 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.

“There was no breach of Mid-Continent’s Airport’s security,” said U.S. Attorney Grissom. “At no time was the safety of travelers or members of the public placed in jeopardy.”

Loewen, who works as an avionics technician, is alleged to have spent months developing a plan that involved using his access card to airport grounds to drive a van loaded with explosives to the terminal. He planned to pull the trigger on the explosives himself and die in the explosion.

Agents arrested Loewen about 5:40 a.m. Friday after he attempted to enter the airport tarmac and deliver a vehicle loaded with what he believed were high explosives. Members of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) took him into custody without incident.

Loewen has been under investigation by the Wichita Joint Terrorism Task Force since early summer 2013. It is alleged that, prior to his attempted attack, he made statements that he was resolved to commit an act of violent jihad against the United States. Over a period of months, he took a series of actions to advance the plot. According to an affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, Loewen:

-Studied the layout of the airport and took photographs of access points.
-Researched flight schedules.
-Assisted in acquiring components for the car bomb.
-Talked about his commitment to trigger the device and martyr himself.

On Friday, Loewen went to Mid-Continent Airport to detonate the car bomb. He was taken into custody when he attempted to open a security access gate. FBI Evidence Response Teams are executing search warrants related to the case. Although the investigation is ongoing, no additional arrests are anticipated.

FBI SAC Michael Kaste stated “Lone wolves - home grown violent extremists remain a very serious threat to our nation’s security. Today’s arrest emphasizes the continual need for the public to remain vigilant as law enforcement relies on the public’s assistance.”

If convicted, Loewen would face a maximum penalty of life in federal prison

The investigation was conducted by the Wichita FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, which includes members from the FBI, Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office and Kansas Highway Patrol. Assisting with the investigation were the FBI Kansas City Division, the Transportation Security Administration, the Wichita Airport Authority, the Wichita Police Department.

The case is being handled by prosecutors from the United States Attorney’s Office and the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

In all cases, defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty. The charges merely contain allegations of criminal conduct.


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