WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Prosecutors argued Friday that charges against a man accused in a plot to blow up the Wichita airport should not be thrown out, even though the explosives used in an undercover sting were fake.
In a court filing, prosecutors said it was important to determine whether Terry Loewen, a former avionics technician who was arrested in December 2013, was actually willing to detonate the bomb at Mid-Continent Airport — without putting hundreds of people at the facility in danger. He allegedly tried in to bring a van filled with inert explosives onto the airport in a suicide bomb plot as part of a sting operation in which undercover FBI agents posed as co-conspirators.
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.
Loewen’s attorneys have argued that because the explosives were inert and the bomb would not explode, the weapon did not meet the legal definition of a “destructive device.” They asked the court to dismiss the counts related to the attempted use of weapon of mass destruction and attempted use of explosive device.
But the government countered in a court filing Friday that the fact the bomb Loewen wired would not have exploded is irrelevant to the crime the government must prove. It cited other cases in which law enforcement would impersonate children to catch sex predators, rather than place real children in danger; or use false drugs or firearms rather than allow real versions to be potentially released into the community.
“If the government could not probe the willingness of individuals to engage in criminal behavior … by probing whether a self-described terrorist is actually willing to detonate a bomb at an airport without putting hundreds of men and women at that facility in danger, it would be impossible for the government to apprehend these individuals before victims were hurt,” the government wrote in its filing.
That would “eviscerate” not only all undercover operations, but pose serious implications for criminal liability generally in cases where a person takes a step to commit a crime, prosecutors wrote.
Loewen’s attorneys have also asked the court to suppress any evidence seized from his vehicle on the day of his arrest, because they say the search warrant wasn’t good for that day.
But in a separate filing Friday, prosecutors argued that the government presented five different search warrants to the judge, and it was a “simple clerical error” when the judge mistakenly put the date she signed the warrant in place of the date when the warrant was to be executed on the one involving the van. It argued the minor technical violation is not sufficient to thrown out the evidence seized from it.
U.S. District Judge Monti Belot has set March 31 for oral arguments over the legal disputes.
Two similar cases in Chicago also derive from FBI stings using fake bombs.
Sami Samir Hassoun, a young Lebanese immigrant, was arrested in 2012 after placing a backpack he thought held a bomb in a trash can by a crowded bar near Chicago Cub’s Wrigley Field stadium. Undercover agents had given him the inert device minutes before. In a plea deal, Hassoun pleaded guilty to two explosives counts and was sentenced to 23 year in prison in 2013.
The other Chicago case of Adel Daoud, is scheduled to go to trial later this year on a charge of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. Daoud, a U.S. citizen from a Chicago suburb, is accused of trying to set off what he thought was a car bomb outside a Chicago bar in 2012 when he was just 18. Agents moved in to arrest him after he pushed a button he was told would ignite the explosive.
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