Air Force veteran first to be convicted of trying to enter Syria to support ISIS
BROOKLYN, N.Y.–A U.S. Air Force veteran was found guilty by a jury in Brooklyn Federal Court on Wednesday for helping ISIS, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.
Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh, 47, a former avionics instrument system specialist from New Jersey, was found guilty of providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization and obstruction of an official proceeding.
This conviction is the first time a jury has found an individual guilty for attempting to travel to Syria to join ISIS, according to Assistant Attorney General John P. Carlin.
“Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh was willing to become a martyr, using his U.S. military training as a weapon for ISIL. Instead, found guilty of his crimes, he is facing a lengthy incarceration,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Diego G. Rodriguez.
Defense: ‘This case is good for the justice system’
Eric Creizman, Pugh’s lawyer, said that while he understood the jury’s verdict, he is disappointed at the outcome and believes that there was reasonable doubt.
“Our client maintained his innocence since day one, so we went to trial and put up the best fight we possibly could,” Creizman said. “It was a well-tried case, an interesting case, because the whole thing was what they could glean from his state of mind from things he did, on the Internet and on the computer.”
He is due back in court September 16 for sentencing and faces a maximum sentence of 35 years in prison.
“I think this case is good for the justice system,” Creizman added. “It’s good for the world to see that in this country, you get a trial by jury. In the Islamic State, people accused of crimes don’t get such fair treatment.”
Crossing the Middle East
Pugh, a convert to Islam, served in the Air Force from 1986 to 1990, according to the Justice Department.
Prosecutors presented evidence at the trial that Pugh traveled from Egypt to Turkey in January 2015 in an attempt to cross into Syria to join ISIS to “fight violent jihad.” One piece of evidence was a letter Pugh wrote just before leaving for Turkey.
“I am a Mujahid. I am a sword against the oppressor and a shield for the oppressed. I will use the talents and skills given to me by Allah to establish and defend the Islamic State. There is only 2 possible outcomes for me. Victory or Martyr,” Pugh wrote in a note, prosecutors say.
In Turkey, authorities were suspicious that he was heading to Syria, denied him entry, and sent him on a return flight to Egypt, U.S. officials say.
While detained in Egypt, authorities found that he was carrying “four USB thumb drives that had been stripped of their plastic casings and an iPod that had been wiped clean of data,” the Justice Department said in a statement.
He was then deported to the United States, where the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force got a warrant for his devices. The FBI found the letter in which Pugh spoke of using his “talents and skills” to defend the Islamic State, as well as recent Internet searches for ISIS propaganda videos.
Pugh was trained in installing and maintaining aircraft engine, navigation and weapons systems, according to the Justice Department.
In 2001, while working for American Airlines, a co-worker of Pugh alerted the FBI that Pugh “sympathized with Osama bin Laden, felt that the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies overseas was justified and expressed anti-American sentiment,” according to his criminal complaint.