Gary Strauss, 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 as he tried to drive on to the tarmac in a vehicle he thought was loaded with explosives.
Terry Lee Loewen, who works for an aeronautics company at the airport, was arrested at 5:40 a.m. CT in an FBI sting operation involving undercover agents posing as members of Yemen-base Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
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.
Loewen 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.
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 helped get materials to make car bombs. The FBI said the bombs Loewen allegedly planned on using had been "rendered inert'' before he arrived at the airport.
Loewen 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, then detonate the bomb as he entered the airport. Authorities said Loewen had planned to set off the bomb when the airport was most crowded.
While the case remains under investigation, no additional arrests are anticipated. Loewen is not associated with any religious group in Wichita, Grissom said.