It was an undercover operation that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been carrying out since the summer of 2013. Kansas State Law Enforcement, Wichita FBI officers and the Wichita Joint Terrorism Task Force worked round the clock to counter what was a terrorist plot to set off a car bomb in the airport tarmac. However, once again the growing fear of 'inside threats' is seen growing in the US.
Terry Lee Loewen, 58, of Wichita, Kansas, who works as an avionics technician, was taken into custody by the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) without incident at about 5:40 a.m. on Friday, after he attempted to enter the airport tarmac, to deliver a vehicle loaded with what they believed were high explosives, the FBI top official said in a statement.
Loewen popped up on FBI's radar about six months back after he made statements that 'found him resolved to commit an act of violent jihad against the United States'. Since then FBI has been keeping a close watch on him, leading to a long sting operation, involving undercover FBI agents meeting him posing as Al-Qaeda terror cell members.
Post 9/11, Homeland Security Watch has been on an all time high and internal security is being monitoried closely. In his address to the press following the arrest, Special Agent in Charge Michael Kaste quoted FBI Director Comey, who before the US Senate Committee on threats to homeland stated: "First, I worry most at home about the individuals we call "homegrown violent extremist. They are people who are inspired by al Qaeda, but who direct themselves, and equip themselves, to engage in their own version of jihad on behalf of terrorism interest."
In the long undercover operation, the authorities found that Leowen spent months studying the Mid-Continent Airport layout, took photographs of access points, research flight schedules and even assisted the undercover agents in acquiring the components of the car bomb. He also spent months developing a plan that involved using his access card to airport grounds to drive a van loaded with explosives to the terminal where he would detonate the explosives and ultimately martyr himself.
If convicted, Loewen would face a maximum penalty of life in federal prison. However, as it is in all cases, defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty and the charges against him are merely allegations of criminal conduct that still remain to be proved in a court of law. "Investigations of these types, because of their very nature, are very sensitive and follow strict guidelines governing the use of undercover operations. We base our investigations on sound legal standards with the ultimate goal of keeping U.S. citizens safe while protecting us from a terrorist attack, which is our number one priority," Special Agent in Charge Kaste said during the press briefing.
The threat for US is real and is now widely known that Al-Qaeda has for long been indulging in recruiting the Americans for Anti-America operations overseas. In the case of Loewen, the FBI was lucky to have spotted him earlier on, but there many more 'lone wolves' like him still remain a threat at large for America.