WICHITA, Kansas — A former avionics technician who authorities said wanted to cause "maximum carnage" during the holiday season admitted Monday to plotting a suicide bomb attack at a Wichita airport.
Terry L. Loewen pleaded guilty to attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, after striking a deal with prosecutors for a proposed 20-year sentence.
U.S. District Judge Monti Belot took the plea agreement under advisement, but said he was "almost certain" to accept the proposed sentence. If Belot rejects it, Loewen would be allowed to withdraw his plea. Sentencing is set for Aug. 31.
Loewen, 59, was arrested in December 2013 after authorities said he tried to bring a van filled with inert explosives onto the tarmac at Wichita's Mid-Continent Airport, now called the Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport. His arrest was the culmination of a monthslong sting operation in which two FBI agents posed as co-conspirators.
The plea agreement revealed that Loewen came to the attention of the FBI in late May 2013, when he became a Facebook "friend" of an individual who regularly posted information supporting violent jihad.
Authorities said agents then looked back through Loewen's own Facebook activities and their concern was heightened by his posts. An online undercover agent contacted him, and offered to introduce him to someone who could help him engage in violent jihad. The final plan was to detonate the explosive device between airport terminals in an attack during which Loewen would die a martyr for Allah, authorities said.
Loewen's attorney Timothy Henry did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on his client's behalf about the latest developments.
Prosecutors alleged that Loewen planned to set off a bomb aimed at inflicting "maximum carnage" that would have killed and injured hundreds of people during the busy holiday travel season.
At the time, Loewen worked at Hawker Beechcraft's facility at the airport. Authorities said during the operation he placed an "X'' on a map of the airport terminal that he gave to one of the undercover agents to show the best place to park a vehicle full of explosives to kill the most people.
"Terry Loewen utilized his privileged airport access to attempt a terrorist attack in Wichita," John Carlin, assistant attorney general for national security, said in a news release.
Defense lawyers early on raised the issue of possible government entrapment, but their efforts to get charges dismissed or evidence thrown out failed. Prosecutors have argued that Loewen was "well on his way" to becoming a violent terrorist before authorities began investigating him.
Prosecutors had called Loewen the "definition of a lone-wolf terrorist." Early on, prosecutors had presented as evidence a letter FBI agents found when they searched Loewen's house.
Loewen wrote that he believed in jihad, or holy war, for the sake of Allah and his Muslim brothers and sisters.
"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.
Loewen had originally been charged with 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.
As part of the plea deal, prosecutors agreed to drop the remaining charges at his sentencing. Without a plea deal, Loewen would face a potential life sentence if convicted by a jury.