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US airport bomb plot suspect arrested

WICHITA, Kansas -- An American avionics technician who prosecutors say sympathized with violent terrorists was arrested Friday as part of an FBI sting after he drove a vehicle loaded with what he thought were explosives to a Wichita airport.

Authorities said the planned assault by Terry Lee Loewen at Wichita's Mid-Continent Regional airport was aimed at supporting al-Qaida.

Loewen, 58, who worked at the airport for Hawker Beechcraft, was arrested before dawn as he tried to drive into the tarmac. The materials in the car were inert, and no one at the airport was in any immediate danger, authorities said.

Loewen, who lives in Wichita, had been under investigation for about six months after making online statements about wanting to commit “violent jihad” against the United States, U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said. Eventually, an undercover FBI agent befriended Loewen, striking up conversations about terrorism and Loewen's admiration for those who plotted violence against American interests.

Authorities said Loewen spent months studying the layout of the airport, its flight patterns and other details to maximize fatalities and damage in an attack. During that time, he developed a plan with other conspirators to use his employee access card to pull off the attack. The conspirators were actually undercover FBI agents.

Loewen planned to die in the explosion, a fate that he said was inevitable in his quest to become a martyr in a jihad against America, according to court documents.

Authorities said they believe Loewen acted alone. No other arrests were expected.

Loewen made an initial court appearance Friday afternoon, answering “yes” in a strong voice to various procedural questions. A U.S. magistrate ordered that Loewen remain jailed at least until a hearing next Friday after prosecutors said he was a flight risk and a danger to the community.

His wife and attorney declined comment after the hearing.

The case appears to be similar to a string of cases in the law enforcement world since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. Wide use of FBI sting operations has prompted frequent controversy over balancing the needs of law enforcement and civil liberties. One involved an undercover agent pretending to be a terrorist who provided a teenager with a phony car bomb, watched him plant the bomb in downtown Chicago and press a trigger.

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