A federal grand jury in New York has indicted U.S. Air Force veteran Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh on charges that he conspired to join the Islamic State, the latest in a growing line of Americans being nabbed trying to fight alongside the extremist group.
Pugh, a 47-year-old mechanic, appears to be the first American military veteran charged with supporting the Islamic State. His arrest is likely to heighten worries that a homegrown terrorist could mount an attack in the United States that is similar to the ones the Islamic State inspired in Canada, Denmark, France, and Australia.
Some 20 Americans have already been charged with attempting to travel to the Middle East to join the group. Last month, authorities arrested three men with plotting to travel to Syria and later return to the United States for attacks — including, potentially, assassinating President Barack Obama and bombing New York’s Coney Island.
Citing social media postings, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Brooklyn said Pugh never intended to return to the United States. In an indictment filed Monday, prosecutors said Pugh converted to Islam in 1998 while living in Texas and quickly became radicalized. He drew the FBI’s attention in 2001 after a co-worker reported that he had sympathetic things to say about now-deceased al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Charging documents unsealed Tuesday show that Pugh served as an avionics instrument system specialist with the Air Force from 1986 to 1990. He worked for a host of companies in the United States and the Middle East after leaving the service. A LinkedIn page under the name Tairod Pugh lists his last employer as Gryphon Airlines.
The federal documents allege Pugh was fired from a job in Kuwait as an airplane mechanic in December 2014, and then headed to Egypt. From there, he traveled to Turkey in an attempt to cross the border into Syria. He was turned away by Turkish authorities on Jan. 10 and sent back to Egypt.
There, Egyptian authorities accused Pugh of possessing damaged thumb drives and an iPod that had been scrubbed clean of information. He was sent back to the United States and arrested upon his return on Jan. 16. Searches of his laptop show that he researched entry points into Syria along the Turkish border, according to the federal documents.
“We will continue to vigorously prosecute extremists, whether based here or abroad, to stop them before they are able to threaten the United States and its allies,” said Loretta E. Lynch, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York and President Barack Obama’s languishing attorney general pick.
Pugh is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday in Brooklyn federal court. His attorney, Michael Schneider, said he would plead not guilty.
Photo Credit: LinkedIn