US Air Force Veteran Charged with Attempting to Provide Material Support to ISIL
Defendant, a Former Avionics Specialist, Travelled from Egypt to Turkey in an Attempt to Cross the Border to Syria to Join ISIL
U.S. Attorney Loretta E. Lynch of the Eastern District of New York, Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, Assistant Director in Charge Diego G. Rodriguez of the FBI’s New York Field Office and Commissioner William J. Bratton of the New York City Police Department announced that yesterday, a federal grand jury in New York City returned a two-count indictment charging Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh, an American citizen and veteran of the U.S. Air Force, with attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a foreign terrorist organization, and obstruction and attempted obstruction of justice. The defendant will be arraigned on the indictment tomorrow, March 18, at 11 a.m. before U.S. District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis of the Eastern District of New York.
“Born and raised in the United States, Pugh allegedly turned his back on his country and attempted to travel to Syria in order to join a terrorist organization,” said U.S. Attorney Lynch. “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.” U.S. Attorney Lynch extended her grateful appreciation to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), which comprises a large number of federal, state, and local agencies from the region. U.S. Lynch also thanked U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of New Jersey, the Asbury Park, New Jersey Police Department and the Neptune, New Jersey, Police Department for their assistance.
“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 Carlin. “Identifying and bringing to justice individuals who provide or attempt to provide material support to terrorists is a key priority of the National Security Division.”
“As alleged, Pugh, an American citizen, was willing to travel overseas and fight jihad alongside terrorists seeking to do us harm,” said Assistant Director in Charge Rodriguez. “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. We will continue to work with our partners, both here and abroad, to prevent acts of terrorism. This investigation demonstrates the importance of law enforcement coordination and collaboration here and around the world.”
“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 Commissioner Bratton. “It is this type of collaboration that results in swift investigative work to stop individuals such as this from making any further contribution to terrorist organizations such as ISIL.”
As alleged in the complaint, indictment and other court filings, the defendant served in the Air Force as an avionics instrument system specialist and received training in the installation and maintenance of aircraft engine, navigation and weapons systems. After leaving the Air Force, the defendant worked for a number of companies in the United States and Middle East as an avionics specialist and airplane mechanic. The defendant lived abroad for over a year before his arrest in this case.
Earlier this year, weeks after being fired from his last job as an airplane mechanic based in the Middle East, the defendant attempted to join ISIL. On Jan. 10, 2015, the defendant traveled from Egypt to Turkey in an effort to cross the border into Syria to join ISIL and fight violent jihad. Turkish authorities denied the defendant entry, however, and sent him on a return flight to Egypt. Upon his arrival in Egypt, the defendant was carrying multiple electronic devices, including four USB thumb drives that had been stripped of their plastic casings and an iPod that had been wiped clean of data. The defendant also had a cellular telephone that contained, among other things, a photograph of a machinegun. The defendant was soon thereafter deported to the United States.
On Jan. 14, 2015, JTTF agents obtained a search warrant for the defendant’s electronic devices, including his laptop computer. Subsequent exploitation of the laptop revealed, among other things, the following:
recent internet searches for “borders controlled by Islamic state”,
recent internet searches for “who controls kobani,” “kobani border crossing,” and “jarablus border crossing,” all references to Syrian cities under ISIL’s control near the Turkish border,
a chart of crossing points between Turkey and Syria indicating the areas on the Syrian side of the border controlled by ISIL and other groups, and
internet searches for “Flames of War,” an ISIL propaganda video, as well as downloaded videos, including one showing ISIL members executing prisoners.
The defendant was arrested pursuant to a federal complaint on Jan. 16, 2015, in Asbury Park, New Jersey, and he has been in custody ever since. After the defendant’s arrest, JTTF agents seized and later obtained warrants to search two backpacks that the defendant had when he was overseas. Agents recovered from the backpacks, among other things: two compasses, a solar-powered flashlight, a solar-powered power source, shards of broken USB thumb drives, a fatigue jacket and camping clothes.
If convicted, the defendant faces a maximum sentence of 35 years in prison. The charges in the indictment are merely allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Samuel P. Nitze and Tiana A. Demas, with assistance provided by Trial Attorneys Larry Schneider and Andrew Sigler of the National Security Division.