The supposed truck bomb contained no explosives, but the 58-year-old Kansas man arrested in an FBI sting at the Wichita airport on Friday was potentially the most dangerous kind of homegrown terrorist.
The Kansas man, Terry Lee Loewen, allegedly was not simply willing but anxious to take his own life in furtherance of the goal he put forth in a farewell letter to his unsuspecting family.
“Maximum carnage + death.”
And Loewen appears to have been all the more a threat because he seemed to his family and neighbors to have been no threat at all.
His family knew he had recently become a Muslim, but otherwise he seemed the same laid-back, warmhearted guy who had grown up in a good home with loving parents and who was himself a good father. He seemed to everyone to be just a regular working stiff who went each day to his job as a avionic technician and came back to his house on Funson Street, just up a quiet block from an elementary school and behind the Wichita Mall.
Nobody was more stunned than his own son after the Joint Terrorist Task Force arrested Loewen as he allegedly attempted to achieve his bloodthirsty goal by driving a truck he believed to contain explosives between the two terminals at Wichita’s Mid-Continent Airport.
“He’s a really good guy,” said 24-year-old Damien Loewen. “I never thought he would do something like this. He’s always a calm and loving man.”
His first wife, Sarah Loewen, recalled him as being “mellow.” His brother-in-law, David Reddig, told a reporter that Loewen had come to his aid after he was put out of work with an injured eye, helping him with his truck payments and tending to his chickens as well as his house.
“A good guy,” Reddig said.
But, according to a 21-page criminal complaint filed in Wichita federal court as case 13-M-621-01-KMH, Loewen was secretly as bad a guy as could be. His neighbors were stunned by the thought that while they watched fictional terrorist plots unfold on Homeland, he was allegedly trying to perpetrate a real one. Kids who had trick-or-treated at his house six weeks ago now discovered that the scariest costume of this year’s Halloween had really been one that seemed not to be a disguise.
“We just went trick-or-treating down there,” Kyia Reed told a reporter. “It’s a normal house, normal decorations. We saw him and his wife, both normal people.”
Like the elder of the alleged Boston Marathon bombers and the would-be Times Square bomber and the Fort Hood shooter, Loewen was allegedly a big fan of Anwar al-Awlaki, the al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula leader killed two years ago by a drone strike in Yemen who continues to arouse the worst in lost souls seeking to find meaning in mass murder justified by religious mumbo jumbo.
Exactly what prompted Loewen to convert to Islam is not yet clear, and none of the mosques in his area acknowledge ever having any contact with him. The criminal complaint quotes an email in which he said that he became attracted to radical fundamentalism when he began visiting a now defunct website called Revolution Muslim.
“The first website that really helped me understand what obedience to Allah was,” Loewen wrote.
The site was run by another American convert, Jesse Curtis Morton of Brooklyn. Morton, who now goes by the name Younus Abdullah Muhammad, was recently convicted of posting online threats against the creators of South Park for a supposed insult to Islam. Loewen wrote that he had been sending money to Muhammad’s family.
“He is doing eleven and a half years over the whole South Park fiasco; isn’t democracy great?” Loewen wrote, according to the complaint.
The email was to someone Loewen had met online during his visits to such sites. Loewen imagined his new cyber pal to be a jihadi just like he seems to have desperately hoped to become.
“Loewen has engaged in online conversation with an individual who unbeknownst to him is an FBI employee,” the complaint notes. “Statements Loewen has made to FBI Employee 1 reflect his desire to engage in violent jihad on behalf of al Qaeda.”
The complaint quotes numerous emails, including an August 17 message in which Loewen gave FBI Employee 1 a rundown of his online studies.
“I have read Anwar Al-Awlaki’s 44 ways of Jihad, and like everything l’ve ever read of his, it’s very informative...I have downloaded tens of thousands of pages on the subjects I mentioned earlier [referring to jihad, martyrdom operations and implementation of Sharia law]. Today I printed out something called the Al Qaeda Manual (or Manchester Manual)...”
Loewen was referring to an 180-page al Qaeda instruction book recovered by British police in 2000. The 18 chapters cover everything from bombing to assassination and resisting interrogators. Loewen allegedly wrote to FBI Employee 1 on August 21 to say how anxious and willing he was to do his part.
“Let me get to the bottom line without being too revealing—I have numerous ideas of ways I could perform jihad in the path of Allah...”
He clearly stated a motive that remains confoundingly unclear in its origin.
“I just hate the kaffar government and those who are following it to the Hellfire, and the sooner it and its followers get there, the better.”
He wrote of jihad, according to the complaint: “it’s always something l’ve wanted to do but you just can’t walk up to any Muslim and ask.”
He went on, “I have become ‘radicalized’ in the strongest sense of the word, and I don’t feel Allah wants me any other way—I MUST be active in some kind of (dare I say it) jihad to feel I’m doing something proactive…direct jihad against a civilian [sic] target is not out of the question.”
At one point, Loewen reported to FBI Employee 1 that he had been having computer troubles and had asked a family member for help. Loewen assured his cyber pal that there had been no breach of security.
“[The family member] never saw any of our conversations, and if [he/she] had, [he/she] isn’t the type to turn us in...”
On September 6, Loewen told FBI Employee 1, according to the complaint: “I believe the potential for me doing more is staggering. I have some rough ideas, but I know nothing about explosives.”
He had apparently found it more daunting than other would-be jihadis to follow the instructions in Awlaki’s Inspire. He cited something in particular he did have to offer:
“My having access to airport property.”
He suggested, “Don’t you think with my access to the airport that I should put that to good use?...Understand I have NO experience [sic] in things like this, but I’m willing to learn.”
Loewen fretted that “l’m moving way too fast for obvious reasons—trying to make up for lost time mostly.”
He added, “Maybe l’m going to stick with donating money to ‘needy Muslims’ for a while.”
But the compliant reports that Loewen was ready for action a week later. He emailed FBI Employee 1, “Reading about the actions of the muhajahdin [sic] and actually carrying them out is two different things. lf not for my family, I would have already carried out some sort of operation—but that’s my fault for putting others before Allah which I know better than to do.”
Loewen emailed FBI Employee 1 a photo of fighter jets that had stopped over at the airport. He wrote on September 17, “It would have been possible today for me to have walked over there, shot both pilots (I don’t know if they are armed or not), slapped some C4 on both fuel trucks and set them off before anyone even called TSA. Talks REAL cheap, however, so what I think I can do and what I actually can do are probably two different things.”
He went on: “Like l said, I have the access, but unless someone thinks I’m teachable, that’s about all I have to offer—but don’t get me wrong; I certainly have the desire to learn how to perform an operation like this. l just haven’t been given the ‘green light’ by Allah yet—at least not that I’m aware of.”
On October 3, FBI Employee l told Loewen that he had met overseas with al Qaeda, the complaint reports. The “brothers” wanted to know if Loewen was willing to scout out targets, possibly even plant bombs.
“Wow!” Loewen replied. “That’s some heavy stuff you just laid down. Am I interested? Yes. I still need time to think about it, but l can’t imagine anything short of arrest stopping me. But as you keep reminding me, I need to let Allah guide me. lt’s very hard for me to comprehend the fact that I could be part of such a massive operation. l’m just Allah’s slave, and not a very good one at that.”
He did voice a worry.
“I have one question: How do you really know who I am or what my agenda really is? I pray to Allah every night that l’m not being misled, and if I am, that He will make it very apparant (sic) to me. I trust you but part of me wants to trust ANYBODY who says they believe what I do because those kind of people are SO rare, and l thirst for that.”
He kept on: “I’m sorry I can’t say I trust you 100%; my greatest fear is not being able to complete an operation because I was set up. I hate this government so much for what they have done to our brothers and sisters, that to spent (sic) the rest of my life in prison without having taken a good slice out of the serpents head is unacceptable to me.”
He appeared to be saying that he was not so much worried about being caught as being caught before he could wage jihad.
“If there is anyway of reassuring me, please do,” he wrote. “As I said, I pray for guidance but God doesn’t speak to me like He does others.”
His words then turned almost surreal for a seemingly regular guy from Kansas.
“I hope I haven’t offended you, but this is like a dream come true for me, and I never expect things this good to occur in my life. I want nothing from this life but to please Allah, and without engaging in jihad for His sake, I can’t say that I did anything to please him. “
He asked the question that would set him apart from other would-be homegrown jihadis.
“Is it a martyrdom operation?; if so am I going to be part of that?”
He then wrote, “l’m asking for a week to give myself time to process all this an (sic) give you an answer.”
On October 5, FBI Employee 1 informed Loewen that the plans were still being formulated. Loewen proved to have one qualm that showed he was not a total monster.
“I can’t see myself doing anything that involves killing children, unless I know everything is being done to minimize that. I understand it’s a war, and some of these brothers may have had their children killed by this country, but in light of what the Prophet said concerning (sic) this, l just need to be sure it can be kept to an absolute minimum.”
Even so, he seemed willing to kill some kids. The complaint reports he said he also was willing to take his own life, though not with the usual hope of being rewarded with virgins in paradise. He wanted to avoid facing family and friends in this life.
“To address my wish for martyrdom (sic), I need to make sure I only desire it to please Allah. To kill numerous people and then trying to face anyone I know (including ‘moderate Muslims’) is a fate worse than death to me.”
He added. “And I doubt I would last 5 minutes under torture—I would much rather die than roll over on a brother, even at this stage of the game. You are the only person I have any contact with on the jihad issue, but I would rather die than even give the authorities your name.”
On October 7, Loewen allegedly told FBI Employee l that he was ready to go through with it.
“Count me in for the duration…lnshallah, this operation will be huge. Just to be a part of any operation with these brothers is a great honor for me.”
His cyber pal arranged for him to meet one of the “brothers,” named in the complaint only as FBI Employee 2, on October 25 and again on November 8. The complaint says, “Loewen indicated that he was interested in becoming a martyr (i.e. dying in the attack), but that he needed to make sure that there was a reason for him to be martyred.”
The complaint further reports: “ln discussing the specifics of the operation, which included taking a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) to the terminal near a number of passenger planes, Loewen suggested that another individual could come in to the terminal with a suicide vest and detonate that to coincide with the VBIED outside. FBI Employee 2 and Loewen discussed executing this plan just prior to Christmas, which would cause the greatest impact physically and economically. They further decided that when discussing the airport and this mission they should use code words, and settled on the term ‘rental property.’”
Loewen afterward emailed FBI Employee 1 to say of FBI Employee 2: “The brother was very inspiring as always. We did look over the rental property, and I explained how we could accomplish the deed with the least resistance. He asked me if I would like to take the ride all the way with him and l said yes...I feel so close to this brother (as you said I would) that going to the end with him seems like the right thing to do.”
On November 13, Loewen again wrote to FBI Employee 1. Loewen mentioned the arrest of a man who was seeking to fly to Syria to fight with al Qaeda.
“Guess he posted a large amount of radical information on Facebook and the FBI set him up. I keep a pretty low profile on Facebook…| have more important things to attend to...”
On November 19, Loewen met once more with FBI Employee 2. The complaint says Loewen “reiterated his desire to martyr himself” and provided FBI Employee 2 with “research that he had conducted on the best time to execute the attack based upon the number of people who would be boarding aircraft and the number of people who would be in the terminal.”
The complaint adds, “Loewen further expressed his desire to kill as many people as possible, and he explained where to park a vehicle full of explosives to accomplish that goal.”
The complaint further reports: “Loewen agreed to purchase a component that would be used to detonate the explosive. FBI Employee 2 explained to Loewen that they would need other items to complete the explosive device. Loewen agreed to obtain those items from his workplace, and without prompting stated that he could wire the explosive device, since he does wiring as part of his employment. They agreed on a final plan, that once Loewen got gate access they would drive to the terminal in the early morning hours, and detonate the device between the terminals for maximum casualties, and that both FBI Employee 2 and Loewen would die in the explosion.”
Loewen subsequently delivered the components, the complaint says, and “reiterated his desire to wire the device and that he would flip the switch when it came time for that. “
Loewen also allegedly gave FBI Employee 2 an airport map where he had inscribed “an ‘X’ to indicate the best place to park the vehicle to cause the most damage” as well as “time schedules for departures at the airport and confirmed that very early morning would be the best time.”
On December 9, Loewen allegedly conducted a dry run, confirming that he could gain access to the tarmac. Loewen met with FBI Employee 2 again.
“Loewen wired the triggering device, and he assisted FBI Employee 2 in assembling the rest of the bomb,” the complaint states.
On Thursday, Loewen took off from work and spent the day writing letters and making final lists of things to do. He met up with FBI Employee 2 early Friday morning and drove the supposed truck bomb to the airport access gate. Loewen climbed out to use his access pass, but it had been disabled. He was trying it a second time when he was arrested.
The complaint notes that Loewen had left a letter for his family:
“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...My only explanation is that I believe in jihad for the sake of Allah + for the sake of my Muslim brothers + sisters...Fact is, most Muslims in this country will condemn what I have done...I expect to be called a terrorist (which I am), a psychopath, and a homicidal maniac...”
On Friday afternoon, Loewen was brought in shackles before U.S. Magistrate Karen Humphreys in federal court in Wichita. Humphreys asked if Loewen understood that he was being charged with seeking to use a weapon of mass destruction as well as providing material support to a terrorist organization and attempting to damage property.
“Yes, ma’am, I do,” Loewen said.
As reported by the local press, the next question was whether he could afford a lawyer. The magistrate was informed that Loewen had already told authorities that his wife oversaw the family finances.
“Well, I don’t think that’s all that unusual,” the magistrate observed.
The magistrate said to the wife, Deborah Loewen, “I know all of this must be upsetting.”
The defendant who had allegedly intended to martyr himself proved to have a medical condition that required him to take blood thinners.
“If he goes without that medication for 24 hours, there could be severe consequences to him,” said the public defender handling the case for the moment.
The magistrate asked the wife if she had apprised the authorities of the required medications.
“Yes, I wrote it out…for them this morning,” the wife replied.
The defendant was led off pending arraignment on an indictment, to which he is expected to plead not guilty. A conviction would likely mean his greatest fear had became reality, and many would call that only justice.
Rather than a martyr’s death, he likely would then spend the rest of his life in prison without realizing a dream of jihad the FBI says was inexplicably born in a mellow guy from Kansas.