Man planned suicide attack at Wichita, Kansas, airport, feds say
(CNN) — An airport worker was arrested Friday attempting to detonate a vehicle packed with explosives that he thought were real in a planned suicide attack at a Wichita Mid-Continent Airport terminal in Kansas, federal officials said.
Authorities are calling him “a lone wolf.”
Terry Loewen, 58, who was an avionics technician at the airport, was taken into custody without incident about 6:40 a.m. ET “when he attempted to open a security gate with his pass” and drive a vehicle he believed to be packed with explosives onto the airport tarmac, said U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom.
“He planned to pull the trigger on the explosives himself and die in the explosion,” a Justice Department news release said.
“In fact, these explosives were inert, and it was not a bomb that would ever explode,” Grissom said, adding that the airport perimeter was never breached and “no one was placed in any jeopardy.”
The arrest came as part of an undercover FBI investigation, according to the Justice Department statement.
Loewen, who became the subject of a federal investigation early this summer, hoped to commit an “act of violent jihad against the United States” and spent months studying the airport’s layout, photographing airport access points, researching flight schedules and assisting in the acquisition of car bomb components, Grissom said.
Loewen hoped to detonate his bomb during the airport’s peak traffic time, exacting maximum destruction, Grissom said.
Loewen is charged 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.
The criminal complaint against Loewen lays out a timeline of what led to his arrest and includes excerpts from statements and written communications:
August 5 — In an ongoing dialogue with a person Loewen does not realize is an FBI employee, Loewen expresses his desire to “engage in violent jihad on behalf of al Qaeda.”
In communication, he says, “I don’t understand how you can read the Qur’an and … not understand that jihad and the implementation of Sharia is absolutely demanded of all the Muslim (people). I feel so guilt-ridden sometimes for knowing what’s required of me but yet doing little or nothing to make it happen.”
August 8 — Asked if he would like to be introduced to someone who can help him engage in jihad, Loewen replies, “Brothers like Osama bin Laden and Anwar al Awlaki are a great inspiration to me, but I must be willing to give up everything (like they did) to truly feel like a obedient slave of Allah.”
(Al-Awlaki, the former head of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, was killed in 2011.)
August 17 — Loewen writes, “I have read Anwar AI-Awlaki’s 44 ways of Jihad and like everything I’ve ever read of his, it’s very informative.”
August 21– Loewen outlines some ideas, writing, “Let me get to the bottom line without being too revealing – I have numerous ideas of ways I could perform jihad in the path of Allah but … none of them are legal. I’m 58 years old and spending my remaining years behind bars for a good reason is not out of the question for me.”
August 26 — Loewen offers a tour of the airport and writes, “Direct jihad against a civilian target is not out of the question.”
August 27 — Loewen elaborates on his vision, writing, “I guess I look at myself as the ‘access’ guy at this point just need more details, if any exist at this point – are we talking explosives, because I know nothing about that? It’s all very surreal at this point, exciting, yet scary.”
September 2 — Thinking the FBI employee posing as a jihadist is upset because Loewen had allowed a family member to access his computer, Loewen apologizes and writes, “I’m not able to keep things in order, therefore causing an unsafe enviorment (sic) for myself and others, and the worse thing I can think of is someone else going down for my stupidity. I really don’t see me living through any thing I have in mind, assuming I can even pul (sic) it off. Again I apologize for this (expletive) mess, and will miss the wonderful conversations we had. Peace be with you my brother.”
September 3 — Loewen assures the FBI employee no one’s identity was compromised and “reasserted his commitment to engage in jihad,” according to the complaint.
September 6 — Discussing his plans, Loewen writes, “I believe the potential for me doing more is staggering. I have some rough ideas, but I know nothing about explosives. Don’t you think with my access to the airport that I should put that to good use?”
September 13 — Loewen writes, “Reading about the actions of the muhajideen (sic) and actually carrying them out is two different things. If not for my family, I would have already carried out some sort of operation – but thats my fault for putting others before Allah which I know better than to do.”
September 17 — After discussing fighter jet trainers he had seen on the airport tarmac, Loewen writes, “I don’t see anyway an operation could be planned in advance. It would have been possible today for me to have walked over there, shot both pilots (I don’t know if they are armed or not), slapped some C4 on both fuel trucks and set them off before anyone even called TSA.”
October 3 –The FBI employee tells Loewen he had just met overseas with individuals connected to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and asks if he would be willing to scout targets, collect security information, take photos of access points and plant a device.
Loewen responds, “Wow! Thats some heavy stuff you just laid down. Am I interested? Yes.” Loewen goes on to express concern about whether the FBI employee is who he says he is, according to the complaint, and writes, “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.”
October 4 — Loewen writes that he had some questions: “As I’ve stated before, I won’t be able to access the ramp with a vehicle until next year- so driving on to airport property with a van full of C4 is out of the question- after the first of the year, we could drive a city bus out there.”
October 5 — Asked if he is interested in dying for the cause and offered a chance to back out, Loewen responds, “I can’t see myself doing anything that involves killing children, unless I know everything is being done to minimize that. I understand it’s a war, and some of these brothers may have had their children killed by this country, but in light of what the Prophet said concering (sic) this, I just need to be sure it can be kept to an absolute minimum.”
October 7 — Loewen sends photos of an airport access badge, entrance gates to the tarmac and devices used to access the gates.
October 8 — Loewen explains what the badge codes and colors meant.
October 11 — He further discusses his plans and writes, “Count me in for the duration.”
October 18 — The FBI employee asks Loewen if he wants to meet “one of the brothers in person” and offers to provide him with a new laptop. Loewen responds, “I will only bring a weapon if the brother thinks it to be advisable. The only reason I would see the need for one is if law enforcement were to show their ugly self’s (sic), at which point I would start shooting to give the brother time to flee.”
October 25 — Another FBI employee, posing as a Muslim “brother,” meets with Loewen, who reiterates his desire to blow up a plane with numerous people on board, according to the complaint. They later decide the attack should be launched near Christmas.
November 11 — In discussing his October 25 in-person meeting, Loewen writes to the first FBI employee, “I feel so close to this brother(as you said I would) that going to the end with him seems like the right thing to do.”
November 19 — Loewen meets again with the second FBI employee, and he provides his research on the best time to conduct the attack “based upon the number of people who would be boarding aircraft and the number of people who would be in the terminal,” the complaint says, adding, “Loewen further expressed his desire to kill as many people as possible.” He also provided a diagram of the terminal and tarmac and offered to obtain certain components and wire the explosive device, the complaint says.
“They agreed on a final plan, that once Loewen got gate access, they would drive to the terminal in the early morning hours, and detonate the device between the terminals for maximum casualties, and that both FBI Employee 2 and Loewen would die in the explosion,” the complaint says.
November 21 — Loewen meets with the second FBI employee and provides the requested components.
December 3 — Loewen and the second FBI employee discuss the containers that will be used for the bomb and how to construct it. Loewen then gives the FBI employee a diagram of the terminal with an X designating where to park the bomb, along with flight schedules, according to the complaint.
December 6 — Loewen renews his badge and is told he had been granted access to the tarmac.
Monday — Loewen uses his badge to access the tarmac for one minute, the complaint says.
Wednesday — Loewen meets with the second FBI employee. They go to another location where Loewen wires the “bomb,” and they agree the attack will take place December 13. Later that day, Loewen tells the FBI employee he skipped work and wrote letters to his family members.
Friday — The second FBI employee picks up Loewen at a hotel, and they drive to the location where the bomb is stored. Loewen finishes wiring the bomb, and the pair head to the airport, arriving at about 5:40 a.m.
Loewen twice swipes his badge to open the gate to the tarmac, but it had been disabled. He was then arrested, authorities said.
The complaint further says that authorities found a letter purportedly written by Loewen, dated December 11 and addressed to a family member, saying, “By the time you read this I will – if everything went as planned – have been martyred in the path of Allah. There will have been an event at the airport which I am responsible for. The operation was timed to cause maximum carnage + death.”
The letter, according to the complaint, further says, “I expect to be called a terrorist (which I am), a psychopath, and a homicidal maniac.”
FBI Evidence Response Teams were executing search warrants related to the case, and the investigation is ongoing, the Justice Department said Friday.
No additional arrests are expected, Grissom said, and Loewen was not working with any “religious community” in Wichita.
If convicted, Loewen would face a maximum penalty of life in prison.
“Lone wolves, homegrown violent extremists, remain a very serious threat to our nation’s security,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael Kaste said in a news release. “Today’s arrest emphasizes the continual need for the public to remain vigilant as law enforcement relies on the public’s assistance.”
Loewen was arrested at the airport once before in 2009 for carrying a concealed weapon, according to police records obtained by CNN affiliate KWCH . He pleaded no contest. It was not clear whether there was a fine or sentence imposed in that case.
It’s not known if he already worked the airport at the time of that offense or was there as a passenger, KWCH said.
The Wichita Mid-Continent Airport is west of the city and is the busiest airport in Kansas.
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