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TERRORIST PLOT AT MID-CONTINENT AIRPORT Suspect would have been screened by FBI for airport badge access, says official

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, Dec. 13, 2013, at 9:39 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, at 8:13 a.m.

Photos

Barry Grissom announces arrest of Terry Lee Loewen

United States attorney Barry Grissom announces the arrest of Terry Lee Loewen on terrorism charges on Friday. Loewen is accused in a plot to blow up Wichita's Mid-Continent Airport in a suicide bomb attack. (Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle)

Terry Lee Loewen, the man facing multiple charges in connection with an attempt to explode a car bomb at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport, would have gone through background checks and fingerprinting to gain an access badge for airport grounds, an airport official said Friday.

Loewen, who worked as an avionics technician at Hawker Beechcraft Services, would have been checked out by the FBI’s electronic clearinghouse in Washington before being approved for a badge to give him access, said Victor White, Wichita Airport Authority director of airports. Badges must be renewed each year.

About 2,000 of the 10,000 people employed by the airport or its tenants need access to airport grounds for their job functions, White said.

The badges are color-coded for level of access. Only a small percentage of those who have badges have access to the entire airport, he said.

Some employees have access to only the general aviation area, for example, while others have access only to the cargo area, he said. Badged employees are subject to surveillance by the airport police, who check to make sure employees are in the proper areas, White said.

The badges are issued by the airport police using protocols issued by the Transportation Security Administration, White said. To apply for a badge, the employer must first verify the need and fill out a form justifying that need, White said.

“They have to have a proven need to have access to a sterile part of the airport,” he said.

White said he was unaware which level of access Loewen had.

But based on his job “I doubt that he had all-access,” he said. “I’m sure he had limited access, but I don’t know that for a fact.”

Besides fingerprinting and background checks, applicants for a badge must go through a computer-based training session at the airport’s police department, where they learn about rules and regulations and receive other information, White said.

There is a long list of criminal offenses that disqualify a person from gaining a badge, according to Wichita Mid-Continent Airport’s website. Those include offenses such as improper transportation of hazardous materials; interference with flight crew members; conveying false information and threats; unlawful entry to an airport area that serves air carriers contrary to established security requirements; and several felonies, such as robbery, burglary and aggravated assault.

Agents arrested Loewen about 5:40 a.m. Friday after they say he attempted to enter the airport tarmac and deliver a vehicle loaded with what he believed to be high explosives. Loewen was taken into custody when he attempted to open a security gate with his employee access badge.

He 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. The bombs in the van Friday were inert.

“He never got through onto the airfield,” White said.

Hawker Beechcraft Services, 1980 S. Airport Road, performs maintenance, modification, repair, exterior paint and upgrade services for Hawker and Beechcraft airplanes. It also provides a variety of avionics services.

Upon learning of the incident, the company suspended Loewen’s employment pending the outcome of the continuing investigation, Beechcraft said in a statement.

Reach Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or mmcmillin@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @mmcmillin.

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