WICHITA, Kan. - The arrest of a Kansas man accused of trying to bring what he thought was a car bomb into a Wichita airport marked the culmination of a months-long undercover sting in what has become a successful and widely used domestic counterterrorism tactic.
Court documents detail Terry Lee Loewen's alleged conversations with undercover FBI agents over six months. The discussions began with vague sentiments about his desire to commit "violent jihad" against the U.S. before turning into a detailed, concrete plot in which the agents recruited him to use his airport access to plant a bomb in a martyrdom operation.
Loewen, a 58-year-old avionics technician who worked at the airport for Hawker Beechcraft, was arrested Friday on charges including providing support to al-Qaida and attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. He remains jailed, and prosecutors expect to take their case to a grand jury Wednesday.
The case resembles a string of investigations conducted by the FBI since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that have prompted controversy over whether law enforcement's tactics involve entrapment and violate civil liberties.
One such case involved an undercover agent pretending to be a terrorist who provided a teenager with a phony car bomb, then watched him plant it in downtown Chicago. In Boston, a man was sentenced to 17 years in prison for plotting with undercover agents to fly remote-controlled planes packed with explosives into the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol.
The FBI insists the stings are a vital, legal tool for averting potentially deadly terrorist attacks - and juries have returned tough sentences.
Dan Monnat, a prominent Kansas defense attorney who isn't representing Loewen, said the 21-page criminal complaint against Loewen doesn't contain enough information to find his guilt or evidence of FBI entrapment. But he questioned the FBI's tactics.
"If the fragile mental state of an otherwise upstanding individual is exploited to commit a crime that the individual otherwise would not have taken steps to commit, how does that make us safe and why spend taxpayer money on prosecution?" Monnat said today.
"If that is what happened here, we have to ask ourselves is grooming terrorists the best use of our taxpayer money for security if the person otherwise would never have taken further steps in furtherance of terrorism. What is the point?"