Defense questions whether surveillance led authorities to suspect in Wichita suicide bomb plot

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WICHITA, Kansas — Defense attorneys for the man accused of a suicide bomb plot at the Wichita airport want to know whether mass surveillance first led federal authorities to the avionics technician.

The U.S. attorney's office declined to comment Monday on the latest court filing in the case of Terry Loewen. He's been jailed since December for allegedly trying to bring a van filled with inert explosives onto the tarmac at Mid-Continent Airport. 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.

It has been nearly a year since his arrest following a months-long sting in which undercover agents posed as co-conspirators, and his attorneys argued in a redacted court filing Friday that prosecutors have given them no evidence indicating how Loewen first came to the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The dispute is important because defense attorneys could seek to suppress evidence obtained or derived from any unlawful electronic surveillance. The defense is also apparently exploring a possible entrapment defense, a key part of which is finding out whether Loewen was disposed to commit the alleged crimes before the FBI undercover operation began.

His defense attorneys have argued that the FBI groomed Loewen for months before his arrest, and that there are no co-conspirators or any connection to actual al-Qaida contacts.

Defense counsel wrote they are concerned that the government may have come across Loewen before their investigation under "constitutionally questionable practices" employed by the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency or under the FBI's playbook for domestic investigations. It noted that programs such as the collection of massive amounts of metadata have been called into question on Fourth Amendment grounds of unreasonable search and seizure.

"One of the concerns of the defense is that the security agencies may have come across Terry Loewen's name through other unrelated investigations during his on-line inquiries into the Muslim faith, and it was possible that the security agencies began targeting him" without following proper procedures regarding surveillance for U.S. residents, the defense wrote.

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