WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas airport worker charged with planning a suicide bomb plot at a commercial aircraft terminal poses a public danger and should not be released pending trial, a federal magistrate judge ruled Friday.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Humphreys further found Terry Lee Loewen is a flight risk and that no conditions of release would guarantee his appearance at future hearings. In announcing her decision, Humphreys said the government's evidence was convincing and in some respects overwhelming because of Loewen's own words during online and in-person conversations with undercover FBI agents.
The judge also formally entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf, the only plea that can be entered at this early stage of federal court proceedings.
Prosecutors say Loewen, 58, planned a suicide bomb plot that was intended to inflict "maximum carnage" and would have killed and injured hundreds of people. He is charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, attempted use of an explosive device to damage property and attempted material support to al-Qaida.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Mattivi argued for continued detention during Friday's hearing, calling Loewen the "definition of a lone-wolf terrorist."
Prosecutors presented as evidence at the hearing a letter FBI agents found when they searched Loewen's house last week that said he expected to be martyred for Allah. Loewen wrote that he believed in jihad, or holy war, for the sake of Allah and his Muslim brothers and sisters. He acknowledged that most Muslims in the U.S. would condemn him.
"I expect to be called a terrorist (which I am), a psychopath, and a homicidal maniac," the letter read, according to court documents that refer to it.
The judge took a short recess to read the full letter, which remained under seal, before issuing her ruling.
"The letter is chilling," Mattivi told the court. "It is absolutely chilling."
Prosecutors invoked a presumption of detention given the nature of the charges, which meant the legal burden shifted to the defense to produce evidence warranting his release.
Defense attorney Tim Henry tried unsuccessfully to have Loewen released under house arrest with electronic monitoring. He argued that the FBI groomed his client for months before his arrest, and said there are no co-conspirators or any connection to actual al-Qaida contacts.
"Without the FBI involvement in this case, there was no ability — none — that my client would be able to carry out any of these things," Henry told the court.
He also criticized the government for the lengthy summary of the investigation contained in the FBI affidavit that was filed with the initial criminal complaint. The affidavit includes statements from Loewen that his lawyer said were "cherry-picked" and taken out of context.
"I would submit the government's case is greatly exaggerated," Henry said.
Loewen, of Wichita, has been held under a temporary order since his Dec. 13 arrest. Prosecutors say he tried to get what he believed was a car bomb onto the tarmac at Wichita's Mid-Continent Airport, where he worked as an avionics technician. They say the final plan — hatched in an undercover scheme with two FBI agents — was to detonate the device between terminals for maximum casualties during an explosion in which Loewen would die as a martyr.
Acknowledging that Loewen has little criminal history and is a lifelong Wichita resident, prosecutors said he spoke during the investigation about fleeing after the attack before ultimately deciding to martyr himself in a suicide bombing. They also said the plot made it "clear his ties to the community mean little" to Loewen.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys declined comment after the hearing.
Mattivi is no stranger to terrorism cases. He led the prosecution in the case against a Saudi man imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, who is charged with orchestrating the deadly 2000 attack on the USS Cole. That attack killed 17 sailors and wounded 37.
A trial is set for Feb. 18, and U.S. District Judge Monti Belot will hear the case. The experienced federal judge is known for running a tight courtroom in complex cases, including the 2011 trial of a Kansas man accused of lying about his role in the Rwandan genocide and the 2010 trial of a couple whose clinic in the suburban community of Haysville near Wichita was linked to 68 overdose deaths.