(Reuters) - Authorities said Friday they foiled a suicide bombing plot to blow up the Mid-Continent Airport in Wichita, Kansas, arresting a man who proclaimed himself Muslim and had talked of committing “violent jihad on behalf of al Qaeda.”
Terry Loewen, a 58-year-old aviation technician from Wichita, was taken into custody early Friday morning as he attempted to enter the airport tarmac with a vehicle loaded with what authorities said he believed were explosives. He planned to trigger the explosives and die in the explosion, they said.
Loewen has been under investigation by the Wichita Joint Terrorism Task Force since early summer and had been working on the bomb plot with individuals he thought were accomplices. But they were actually undercover FBI agents, according to the criminal complaint filed in federal court in Wichita.
Loewen thought one of the undercover agents was a member of “AQAP,” a Yemen-based terrorist group that has claimed responsibility for several terrorist acts against the United States, according to the criminal complaint. That agent helped Loewen with the construction of the device, which officials said, unknown to Loewen, was not active.
“It was not a bomb that would ever explode,” said Barry Grissom, U.S. attorney for the District of Kansas. “At no time was the airport perimeter breached and at no time was any citizen or member of the traveling public in danger.”
Officials refused to provide details on the materials in the device.
Authorities said Loewen had made statements prior to the attempted attack that he was resolved to commit an act of violence that would kill as many people as possible.
Loewen provided one undercover FBI agent with research he had conducted on the best time to execute the attack based on the number of people who would be boarding aircraft and the number of people who would be in the terminal, the criminal complaint said.
Loewen was charged in federal court 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.
Loewen left a letter dated December 11, 2013 for a family member describing his intent to conduct a martyrdom operation, according to the criminal complaint. Part of the letter reads: “By the time you read this I will - if everything went as planned- have been martyred in the path of Allah... The operation was timed to cause maximum carnage + death. My only explanation is that I believe in jihad for the sake of Allah + for the sake of my Muslim brothers + sisters.”
Officials said they were continuing their investigation, but no further arrests were expected.
“This incident is a reminder that we must remain vigilant and reaffirm our commitment to protecting this country and its ideals from those who wish to do us harm,” U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican, said in a statement.
The arrest comes a month after a man attacked security workers at Los Angeles International Airport on November 1, killing one Transportation Security Administration agent and wounding two others before police wounded him and took him into custody.
In October, Jacksonville International Airport in Florida was evacuated for five hours after a man made a false bomb threat. A trucking company worker was arrested and charged with telling a TSA agent he had a bomb in a backpack.
In February 2012, authorities arrested a Moroccan man near the U.S. Capitol wearing a vest he believed was full of al Qaeda-supplied explosives. The man, who like Loewen was the object of a lengthy undercover FBI investigation, was charged with the attempted suicide bombing of Congress and faces up to life in prison if convicted.
Editing by Vicki Allen, Bernadette Baum and Dan Grebler