18 Mar 2015

US veteran tried to join IS, prosecutors say

3:46 pm on 18 March 2015

A US Air Force veteran has been charged with attempting to provide material support to Islamic State (IS) militants.

IS flag

A court in New York has charged a US Air Force veteran with attempting to join Islamic State (file photo). Photo: AFP

Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh, 47, of Neptune, New Jersey, allegedly tried to travel to Syria to join the militant group.

Prosecutors say that he had been living and working in the Middle East for more than a year before his arrest.

Court documents allege he travelled to Turkey in an effort to cross into Syria but was denied entry at the airport.

The charges were announced on Tuesday by US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Loretta Lynch.

Mr Pugh is an American citizen who was born and raised in the US, prosecutors say.

According to a statement from the US Attorney's Office, Mr Pugh served as an avionics specialist and mechanic in the US Air Force.

After he left the military, he did similar work for several companies in the United States and the Middle East.

In court documents, prosecutors allege that on 10 January 2015 he flew to Istanbul on a flight from Egypt, where he had been living for about a year.

Turkish authorities questioned him upon landing and denied him entry to the country.

Mr Pugh refused to let the authorities search his laptop, and they placed him on a return flight to Egypt the same day.

Egyptian officials detained him upon arrival, and discovered that many of his electronics appeared to be purposefully damaged.

On his mobile phone, they found several photos related to aeroplanes and one of a machine gun.

Path to deportation

  • 1986-1990: Serves in US Air Force as avionics specialist and mechanic
  • 1998: Moves to San Antonio, Texas, converts to Islam
  • 2001: Works as mechanic for American Airlines, at which time FBI receives tip from co-worker that Mr Pugh sympathised with Osama bin Laden and says bombings of US embassies in 1998 were justified
  • 2002: FBI interviews an associate who says Mr Pugh interested in travelling to Chechnya to fight jihad
  • October 2009-March 2010: Works on avionics as contractor for DynCorp in Iraq
  • 10 January 2015: Turkish authorities stop him in Istanbul and he claims to be a pilot for US Special Forces, visiting Turkey for a holiday, but he's sent back to Egypt where he's detained pending deportation to US

Source: United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York

His wife told authorities that he had expressed interest in travelling "to Palestine to 'join jihad'".

When told that he was likely going to be deported to the United States, he asked to be sent to any other Middle Eastern country and said "the US doesn't like black Muslims".

US authorities say they found a letter addressed to his wife on his laptop that expressed his wish to "establish and defend the Islamic States". They also found over 100 jihadist propaganda videos, and a map of crossing points between Turkey and Syria.

On 15 January 2015, Mr Pugh returned to the US from Egypt and was arrested a day later.

He faces a maximum sentence of 35 years in prison.

A Facebook account that matches several of Mr Pugh's biographical details features multiple photos with anti-Israel messaging.