WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Prosecutors argued Friday that charges against a man accused in a plot to blow up the Wichita airport should not be thrown out, even though the explosives used in an undercover sting were fake.
In a court filing, prosecutors said it was important to determine whether Terry Loewen, a former avionics technician who was arrested in December 2013, was actually willing to detonate the bomb at Mid-Continent Airport. He allegedly tried to bring a van filled with inert explosives onto the airport in a suicide bomb plot as part of a sting operation in which undercover FBI agents gave him the fake explosives.
Loewen has pleaded not guilty to attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, attempting to use an explosive device to damage property and attempting to give material support to al-Qaida.
Loewen's attorneys contend that because the bomb would not explode, the weapon did not meet the legal definition of a "destructive device." They asked the court to dismiss the related counts.
But the government countered that the fact the bomb Loewen wired would not have exploded is irrelevant. It cited other cases in which law enforcement would impersonate children to catch sex predators, rather than place real children in danger; or use false drugs or firearms rather than allow real versions to be potentially released into the community.
"If the government could not probe the willingness of individuals to engage in criminal behavior ... by probing whether a self-described terrorist is actually willing to detonate a bomb at an airport without putting hundreds of men and women at that facility in danger, it would be impossible for the government to apprehend these individuals before victims were hurt," the government wrote in its filing.
That would "eviscerate" not only all undercover operations, but pose serious implications for criminal liability generally in cases where a person takes a step to commit a crime, prosecutors wrote.
Loewen's attorneys have also asked the court to suppress any evidence seized from his vehicle on the day of his arrest, because they say the search warrant wasn't good for that day.
But in a separate filing Friday, prosecutors argued that the government presented five different search warrants to the judge, and it was a "simple clerical error" when the judge mistakenly put the date she signed the warrant in place of the date when the warrant was to be executed on one of them.
U.S. District Judge Monti Belot has set March 31 for oral arguments over the legal disputes.
Two similar cases in Chicago also derive from FBI stings using fake bombs.
a Lebanese immigrant pleaded guilty to two explosives counts and was jailed for placing a backpack he thought held a bomb by a crowded bar near Chicago Cub's Wrigley Field stadium.
A U.S. citizen is scheduled to go to trial later this year on a charge of attempting to set off what he thought was a car bomb outside a Chicago bar in 2012.
Associated Press writer Michael Tarm contributed to this report from Chicago.