NJ Air Force Vet Accused Of Trying To Provide Material Support To ISIS

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – An Air Force veteran from New Jersey stood accused Tuesday of turning his back on his country and trying to support the terror group ISIS, federal officials said.

Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh, of Neptune, is accused of attempting to provide material support to ISIS, also known as ISIL, and obstruction of justice.

Pugh, 47, was taken into custody in Asbury Park, New Jersey, on Jan. 16, CBS2’s Christine Sloan reported.

“Pugh, an American citizen and former member of our military, allegedly abandoned his allegiance to the United States and sought to provide material support to ISIL,” said Assistant Attorney General John Carlin.

The Air Force veteran allegedly tried to join ISIS after being fired from his job as an airplane mechanic in the Middle East.

He allegedly tried to travel to Syria to join ISIS in January, according to authorities. Turkish authorities caught him and sent him back to Egypt, which deported him back to the U.S.

Pugh was allegedly carrying multiple electronic devices and thumb devices when he was caught in Turkey.

A few days later, members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force searched Pugh’s laptop, and found he had searched “borders controlled by Islamic state” and ISIS propaganda videos, authorities said.

“I will use the talents and skills given to me by Allah to establish and defend the Islamic States. There is only two possible outcomes for me. Victory or martyr,” Pugh wrote in a letter to his Egyptian wife last month that investigators said they found on his laptop.

He added in the letter, “If I am made a martyr, we will have a mansion of indescribable beauty on a magnificent plot of land.”

They also found about 180 extremist propaganda videos, including Islamic State group footage of prisoners being executed, according to a court complaint.

Pugh, 47, served in the Air Force from 1986 until 1990, serving as an avionics instrument system specialist. He apparently converted to Islam in 1998, and later worked as an airplane mechanic for American Airlines.

The airline said Pugh left employment in early 2000. But court documents said the following year – the year of the 9/11 attacks – a coworker at American Airlines said Pugh had sympathized with Osama bin Laden and had expressed anti-American sentiment.

The next year, an associate of Pugh’s told the FBI that Pugh was interested in traveling to Chechnya to wage war, the complaint said.

Pugh has been living in Egypt, Dubai and Jordan for the past year and a half, investigators said. He told an acquaintance in a December email that he’d been fired from his most recent job, the complaint said.

Weeks after getting fired, Pugh traveled from Egypt to Turkey in his bid to cross the border into Syria, authorities said.

Neighbors in Neptune could not believe the allegations.

“It’s like, shocking,” said Cashmere Cruz of Neptune. “I wouldn’t think somebody from little Neptune would, like, do something like that – or even have idea of plotting something like that.”

Federal and local officials emphasized the need to identify and apprehend those who could pose a terrorist threat.

“We thank the members of the NYPD Joint Terrorism Task Force and our Federal law enforcement partners for their work in this case and for their tireless efforts to identify threats of terrorism here and abroad,” said NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton.

“U.S. citizens who offer support to terrorist organizations pose a grave threat to our national security and will face serious consequences for their actions,” said FBI Assistant Director in Charge Diego Rodriguez. “We will continue to work with our partners, both here and abroad, to prevent acts of terrorism.”

Pugh will be arraigned in federal court in Manhattan on Wednesday.

Pugh’s lawyer, Michael K. Schneider, said Pugh would plead not guilty. Schneider declined to comment further.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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