A federal grand jury on Wednesday indicted an avionics technician accused of trying to use his Wichita airport access to mount a suicide car bomb attack.
The indictment accuses Terry Lee Loewen, 58, of the same charges prosecutors brought Friday in a criminal complaint: attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, attempting to damage property by an explosive and attempting to provide support to a foreign terrorist group, Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said Wednesday evening in an email.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced Loewen’s arrest Friday, saying he had tried to get onto the tarmac at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport with what he thought were high explosives by using his access as an employee of Hawker Beechcraft Services. The business is near the main airport terminal.
Authorities said Loewen had plotted for months with co-conspirators he didn’t realize were undercover FBI employees. Loewen considered himself a Muslim and had become resolved to commit “violent jihad,” ultimately by causing the maximum number of deaths at the airport, the 21-page criminal complaint alleges.
Prosecutors on Wednesday presented their case to a federal grand jury. A grand jury proceeding is where prosecutors try to show sufficient evidence that a crime occurred. The jury hears evidence only from prosecutors, not defense lawyers, and the proceeding occurs behind closed doors.
A grand jury proceeding leading to an indictment is a way for prosecutors to avoid a public preliminary hearing, which also would allow for evidence to be presented by the defense and permit defense lawyers to ask questions, said Wichita defense lawyer Kurt Kerns, who does most of his work in federal court. So, in effect, the prosecution doesn’t have to show as much of its case until later, Kerns said.
It’s much more common for federal prosecutors to seek a grand jury indictment than to go to a preliminary hearing, he said. Kerns is not connected to the Loewen case.
A detention hearing for Loewen is set for Friday. That hearing is expected to include arguments about whether he should continue to be detained. He is being held without bond in a Sedgwick County Jail pod, according to the sheriff’s website.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, if convicted, Loewen faces up to life in prison on the charge of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction; at least five years and not more than 20 years on the charge of attempting to use an explosive to damage property, and a maximum of 15 years on the charge of attempting to provide material support to a terrorist group.
In a statement Friday, the office said, “Loewen, who works as an avionics technician, is alleged to have spent months developing a plan to use 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 to die in the explosion.”
Members of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force arrested him without incident. No more arrests were expected in the continuing investigation.
Grissom, the U.S. attorney, said there was no breach of airport security and that travelers and members of the public were not in danger. The material that Loewen had planned to explode was actually inert, authorities said.
Grissom and FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael Kaste emphasized that there was no evidence that Loewen had been working with any religious community in Wichita and that his alleged actions should not reflect on any religious group.