WICHITA, Kan. — Federal prosecutors say a Kansas airport worker intended to inflict "maximum carnage" with a suicide bomb plot in a commercial aircraft terminal that would have killed or injured hundreds of people and those factors alone should compel a judge to keep him behind bars before trial.
Terry Lee Loewen, 58, is expected to return to court Friday for a detention hearing, where he'll have to convince U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Humphreys that he does not pose a public danger or flight risk if he expects to be released. Loewen is charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, attempted use of an explosive device to damage property and attempted material support to al-Qaida.
"The defendant is charged with an egregious crime of violence," prosecutors wrote Thursday in invoking a presumption of detention given the nature of the charges. That means the legal burden shifts to the defense to produce evidence warranting his release.
Loewen, of Wichita, has been held under a temporary order since his Dec. 13 arrest. Prosecutors say he tried to get what he believed was a car bomb onto the tarmac at Wichita's Mid-Continent Airport, where he worked as an avionics technician. The final plan — hatched in an undercover scheme with two FBI agents — was to detonate the device between terminals for maximum casualties during an explosion in which Loewen would die as a martyr.
Court documents said he timed the operation to cause "maximum carnage."
Acknowledging that Loewen has little criminal history and is a lifelong Wichita resident, prosecutors said he spoke during the investigation about leaving the country after the attack in order to escape responsibility for his actions. They also said the plot made it "clear his ties to the community mean little" to Loewen.
His attorney, John Henderson, has declined comment.
In detention hearings, defense attorneys are typically given an opportunity to argue for their client's release under certain conditions, such as electronic monitoring, that would ensure the public's safety while guaranteeing the client would show up to subsequent court proceedings.
"In a case like this, he faces a very great challenge because the allegation is a terrorist attack," said Jim Pratt, a defense attorney who specializes in federal criminal cases. He does not represent Loewen. "He has to show not only that he is not a flight risk, but that he is not a danger to any person or the community."
It's a challenge to meet such a high legal bar, Pratt said, given that Loewen could face a life sentence if convicted on the most serious charge, attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.
"Right now, the only thing out there is the government's side of the offense, and he may want to use this as an opportunity to get information out about himself that is contrary to what the government says," Pratt said.
Prosecutors cited a letter FBI agents found when they searched his house last week that said Loewen expected to be martyred for Allah. Loewen wrote that he believed in jihad, or holy war, for the sake of Allah and his Muslim brothers and sisters. He acknowledged that most Muslims in the U.S. would condemn him.
"I expect to be called a terrorist (which I am), a psychopath, and a homicidal maniac," the letter said.
Trial is set for Feb. 18, and U.S. District Judge Monti Belot will hear the case.
Belot is an experienced federal judge known for running a tight courtroom in complex cases, including the 2011 trial of man accused of lying about his role in the Rwandan genocide and the 2010 trial of the couple who ran a Haysville clinic linked to 68 overdose deaths.