Sunday, December 15, 2013

15-Dec-13: Now what could possibly motivate a man to load up a car with explosives and drive onto an airfield tarmac?

Wichita Mid-Continent Airport terminal [Image Source]
A reminder from the middle of the United States of the very thin line that separates mass-casualty terrorist outrages from the near-misses that barely make it to the inside pages of the world's newspapers.

An ordinary-looking Kansas man was arrested on Friday December 13 on charges that he planned to explode a bomb at the Wichita Mid-Continent Airport, the largest in Kansas. That ordinariness - white, an aviation technician, 58, a former airport employee, nothing notably criminal in his background (other than having been arrested once in 2009 with a concealed weapon on his body, but this is the US and the punishment was that he was ordered to pay the court's costs) - is one of the common threads in the media reporting.

But because no one died, nothing exploded, life goes on, little attention is being paid to what he did manage to do, according to news reports: study the airport's layout, take photos of access points, research flight schedules to know where the greatest concentrations of passengers would be, detonate a vehicle packed with explosives that he thought were real, bring them up to the gate leading to the tarmac by means of a pass that he had tested successfully twice, and make all the right preparations so that the killings would take place "just prior to Christmas which would cause the greatest impact physically and economically". Allegedly, of course. A media release from the Department of Justice says he "planned to pull the trigger on the explosives himself and die in the explosion".

Michael Kaste is the U.S. Attorney who announced the plot in a press conference on Friday. He said the intending bomber sought to “die in the explosion as a martyr”. What the would-be murdering terrorist, Terry L. Loewen, didn't know is that he had been under surveillance since May 2013, and the materials he had assembled for his trip to wherever jihadists go had been rendered non-lethal by agents of the FBI. The indictment, here, charges him with attempting to "use a weapon of mass destruction". The FBI's interest, according to this report from Aljazeera, was prompted by his declaring a desire to "commit an act of violent jihad" against the US.

As for motivation, the theme running through the reports is based on what was said at that media event: Loewen was trying to support "al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula". In addition to murdering people for the usual matrix of Islamist/messianic reasons, that organization publishes the online magazines Voice of Jihad and Inspire.

The intending-bomber's son, who is 24, calls him "a really nice guy", a "really laid back, really happy guy". Unsurprisingly, the son says he "never thought this would happen". Fortunately others did. The man's recent correspondence shows him writing this to an un-named party:
"I believe the potential for me doing more is staggering. I have some rough ideas, but I know nothing about explosives. Don't you think with my access to the airport that I should put that to good use?"
The same source gives an insight into how really nice this nice guy is:
Asked if he is interested in dying for the cause and offered a chance to back out, Loewen responds, "I can't see myself doing anything that involves killing children, unless I know everything is being done to minimize that. I understand it's a war, and some of these brothers may have had their children killed by this country, but in light of what the Prophet said concering (sic) this, I just need to be sure it can be kept to an absolute minimum."
And this letter, evidently written by Loewen to an un-named family member just two days before the arrest:
"By the time you read this I will - if everything went as planned - have been martyred in the path of Allah. There will have been an event at the airport which I am responsible for. The operation was timed to cause maximum carnage + death... I expect to be called a terrorist (which I am), a psychopath, and a homicidal maniac."
It's sadly notable that some parts of the media have avoided dealing at all with the Islamist factor in this sad tale. They simply don't mention the matter of his evident religious conversion. Others, including a local Kansas publication, take pre-emptive measures so that the media coverage doesn't veer off into completely irrelevant places:
Grissom and FBI Special Agent in Charge Mike Kaste stressed that there was no indication that Loewen was involved with or working with any religious community in Wichita and that his alleged actions in no way should reflect on any religious group. Hussam Madi, spokesman for the Islamic Society of Wichita, said Friday: “We don’t even know who he is at all. We haven’t seen him here. This is the first time that we’ve heard of him.” Madi said the society checked with mosques around the city and none of them knew of Loewen.
There's no reason to question the truthfulness of that last statement. But while no rational person will think that some local "religious group" is connected with this attempt at carrying out a pre-holiday season massacre of innocents without evidence, how rational is it to skip any mention at all of the religion whose tenets are quoted again and again by the arrested man as being the reason for carrying out the complex plot?

An editorial published in today's Wichita Eagle ["Eagle editorial: Terrorism threat real, present"] mentions the religious factor just once:
Too many continue to forget that those who plan or carry out terrorist acts in the name of Islam have twisted that faith to unrecognizable extremes.
While there's plainly some room for a variety of views on whether acts of terror carried out in the name of Islam amounts to unrecognizable and twisted distortions, stepping around the religious motivation and avoiding any mention of it (see these stories from the Kansas City Star, Fox News and the BBC among others) is tendentious, agenda-driven journalism, and sloppy editorial work.

The charge sheet and the facts disclosed by the law enforcement people make clear that, whatever the theological correctness of the alleged murderer's alleged motivations, he plainly enough thinks he did them because his god wanted him to and that doing what he allegedly did was directly connected to his religious outlook on life.

We all pay a significant price when those in charge of the flow of information fail to allow the news-consuming readership to figure out for themselves whether this has great significance, or little or none.

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