By Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN
updated 3:15 PM EST, Fri December 13, 2013
(CNN) -- An airport worker was arrested Friday trying to detonate a vehicle packed with explosives he thought were real in a suicide attack at a Wichita Mid-Continent Airport terminal in Kansas, federal officials said.
Authorities are calling him a lone wolf.
Terry Loewen, 58, who was an avionics technician at the airport, was taken into custody without incident about 6:40 a.m. ET "when he attempted to open a security gate with his pass" and drive a vehicle he believed to be packed with explosives onto the airport tarmac, said U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom.
"He planned to pull the trigger on the explosives himself and die in the explosion," a Justice Department news release said.
"In fact, these explosives were inert, and it was not a bomb that would ever explode," Grissom said, adding that the airport perimeter was never breached and "no one was placed in any jeopardy."
The arrest came as part of an undercover FBI probe, according to the Justice Department statement, which didn't provide further details.
Loewen, who became the subject of a federal investigation early this summer, hoped to commit an "act of violent jihad against the United States" and spent months studying the airport's layout, photographing airport access points, researching flight schedules and assisting in the acquisition of car bomb components, Grissom said.
Loewen hoped to detonate his bomb during peak traffic time for the airport, exacting maximum destruction, Grissom said.
Loewen is charged with one count of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, one count of attempting to damage property by means of an explosive and one count of attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.
Officials did not answer questions or elaborate on the third charge during a Friday news conference.
FBI Evidence Response Teams are executing search warrants related to the case, and the investigation is ongoing, the Justice Department said.
No additional arrests are expected, Grissom said, and Loewen was not working with any "religious community" in Wichita.
If convicted, Loewen would face a maximum penalty of life in prison.
"Lone wolves, homegrown violent extremists, remain a very serious threat to our nation's security," FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael Kaste said in a news release. "Today's arrest emphasizes the continual need for the public to remain vigilant as law enforcement relies on the public's assistance."
The Wichita Mid-Continent Airport is west of the city and is the busiest airport in Kansas.