By Roxana Hegeman
WICHITA, Kan. — An avionics technician from Kansas was arrested Friday as he planned to drive a vehicle full of explosives into a terminal at Wichita's Mid-Continent Regional Airport, authorities said.
Terry Lee Loewen, 58, was charged with one count each of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, attempting to damage property and attempting to provide support to terrorist group al-Qaida. Authorities said he was trying to support "al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula."
The materials inside the vehicle were "inert" and "at no time was the safety of travelers or members of the public placed in jeopardy," U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said.
Investigators said Loewen is an avionics technician who lives in Wichita and works at the airport. He had been under investigation for about six months, after he made online statements about wanting to commit "violent jihad" against the U.S. The statements were made in a conversation with an FBI employee unbeknownst to Loewen, Grissom said.
Authorities said they believe Loewen acted alone. No other arrests are expected.
According to court documents, Loewen talked to an undercover agent about downloading online documents about jihad, martyrdom and the "Al Qaeda Manual." He frequently expressed his admiration of Anwar Al-Awlaki, the American-born al-Qaida leader who was killed in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen. Al-Awlaki emerged as an influential preacher among militants living in the West, with his English language Internet sermons calling for jihad, or holy war, against the U.S.
Authorities said Loewen spent months studying the airport's layout, flight patterns and other details to maximize fatalities and damage. During that time, he developed a plan along with undercover FBI agents to use his access card to airport grounds and eventually thrust the vehicle loaded with explosives into the terminal.
He planned to die in the explosion, a fate that he said was inevitable after convincing himself to become a martyr in a jihad against America, according to court documents.
He was arrested about 5:40 a.m. as tried to enter the airport tarmac and deliver a vehicle loaded with what he believed to be high explosives, Grissom said.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback joined the U.S. attorney at the news conference to announce the charges.
"In the ongoing war on terrorism, the good guys won one today," Brownback said.
Wichita Mid-Continent Airport had 68 scheduled commercial flights on Friday, according to flight tracking site FlightAware.com.
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Copyright 2013 The Associated Press