A federal judge on Friday ordered that a man charged in an alleged plot to set off a bomb at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport remain in jail until his trial because he would pose a danger if released.
The decision came after a prosecutor argued that Terry Lee Loewen is the “definition of a lone wolf terrorist” and one of his public defenders countered that Loewen deserved to be put on house arrest with electronic monitoring and that the government’s case against him was “greatly exaggerated.”
Although the defense lawyer didn’t use the word “entrapment,” he appeared to be starting to lay a foundation for an entrapment defense. Under the legal definition, entrapment involves two elements: law enforcement inducing someone to commit a crime, and the person having no predisposition to commit the crime. The prosecutor, however, argued that evidence clearly showed that Loewen was resolved to wage terrorism.
Loewen, a 58-year-old avionics technician who worked for an aviation business near the airport, was indicted Wednesday on charges of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, attempting to destroy property with an explosive device and attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. Loewen appeared in federal court in Wichita on Friday in a hearing to determine whether he should remain in jail pending his trial.
At the conclusion of Friday’s hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Humphreys said she found clear and convincing evidence that Loewen would pose a danger to the community and that there is a risk he would flee if he was released before his trial.
Humphreys said “the charges in this case are rare and unusual.” It is uncommon for there to be so much evidence based on a defendant’s own words, Humphreys said, adding that his words held great significance in her determination.
Authorities have said that in repeated communications with undercover FBI employees, Loewen expressed a desire to wage “violent jihad.”
Humphreys said she found there were no conditions of release that would assure the community’s safety in the case.
She noted that Loewen had expressed on several occasions “extreme hostility” toward the government and said that government is a menace to its citizens. So it’s difficult to see him being supervised under release conditions set by a branch of government, she said.
The judge also told him: “I am giving you the presumption of innocence.”
Humphreys also pointed to evidence that Loewen had lied and been deceptive in allegedly plotting terrorism. Deception has to be considered as a factor in whether he would have been a good candidate for release, she said.
The judge agreed that he has lengthy ties to his community, a stable work history, a long marriage and that he doesn’t use alcohol or drugs. But, Humphreys added, it appeared that his ties to the community seem to have been weakening and of a “superficial nature.”
She referred to the allegation that Loewen was intending to cause maximum damage and carnage, and she described the evidence against him as appearing to be “solid, strong, convincing and in some ways overwhelming,” partly based on his own words.
He seemed to have become radicalized, with his own words allegedly showing a drive to become a martyr in an attack designed to cause maximum damage, she said.
“Those cannot be minimized,” Humphreys concluded.
When asked whether he agreed with his public defender that he understood the charges against him, Loewen said in a clear, firm voice to Humphreys, “Yes, ma’am.”
His trial has initially been set for Feb. 18 before U.S. District Judge Monti Belot. A not-guilty plea has been entered on his behalf.
‘Lone wolf terrorist’
Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Mattivi, arguing that Loewen should remain in jail, said, “This defendant is the definition of a lone wolf terrorist.” Loewen clearly expressed that he was willing to act alone, Mattivi said.
It was Loewen who wired the device he intended to explode at the airport, Mattivi said.
According to Mattivi, the judge had “more than ample information on the record” to order continued detention in the case, including a 21-page criminal complaint detailing Loewen’s alleged actions and communications with undercover FBI employees and a letter from Loewen dated two days before the planned Dec. 13 attack.
Loewen wrote in August that he had a number of ways of waging jihad, and that “none of them are legal,” Mattivi said. Loewen spoke of his hatred for the government. He spoke of how it would have been easy to shoot military pilots and plant explosives. And, Mattivi said, Loewen voiced commitment: “Count me in for the duration.”
Although Loewen at one point talked of fleeing, he ultimately resolved to die a martyr in a suicide attack, the prosecutor said.
The alleged plot involved driving a van with explosives onto the airport tarmac, detonating it, and then setting off a suicide vest, to kill more people as they tried to flee from the carnage.
Loewen “expressed his desire to kill as many people as possible,” and he was willing to flip the switch himself, Mattivi said.
Referring to a letter Loewen wrote, Mattivi said, “The letter’s chilling, it’s absolutely chilling.”
The criminal complaint quotes a portion of a letter dated Dec. 11 that Loewen left for a family member:
“By the time you read this I will – if everything went as planned – have been martyred in the path of Allah. There will have been an event at the airport which I am responsible for. The operation was timed to cause maximum carnage + death.”
The full letter isn’t available in the public court file.
Tim Henry, one of two federal public defenders for Loewen, argued that in its undercover operation against Loewen, the FBI had been grooming Loewen and “leading my client to the cliff.”
He argued that his client didn’t have the means to act on his own. “Bomb-making materials are not common.”
Loewen expressed to the undercover employees that at one point “he wants to walk away,” and “it’s the FBI employee who then talks him back into the criminal plot,” Henry said, adding “they drew him back in. They made sure that he wasn’t going to leave.”
Loewen is connected only to people posing as co-conspirators – “There’s no connection to real al-Qaida operatives,” Henry said.
Henry contended that the government was “cherry-picking” evidence for “maximum effect” for the government. The criminal complaint doesn’t include the full context in communications attributed to Loewen, Henry said.
Loewen isn’t the only one who has talked negatively about the government, and the First Amendment protects such expression, he said. Henry added that “some of the comments may have been over the top.”
Henry argued that Loewen would comply with any release conditions set.
The public defender tried to convince the judge that his client was stable enough to be released while he faced trial. He said Loewen and his wife had been married 16 years and were committed to each other.
Henry said that in the early 1990s, Loewen had a daughter who died at age 6, and that he had suffered depression because of it.