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Former Air Force Airplane Mechanic Pleads Not Guilty To Terrorism Charges

March 18, 2015 - On Wednesday, 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. 

Pugh who was an Avionics Specialist and airplane mechanic in the U.S. Air Force was arraigned today on the indictment before U.S. District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis of the Eastern District of New York. Pugh pleaded not guilty to terrorism charges. 

“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 Loretta E. 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.”

“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.”



As alleged in the complaint, indictment and other court filings, Pugh 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, Pugh worked for a number of companies in the United States and Middle East as an avionics specialist and airplane mechanic. Pugh 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, Pugh attempted to join ISIL. On Jan. 10, 2015, the Pugh traveled from Egypt to Turkey in an effort to cross the border into Syria to join ISIL and fight violent jihad. Turkish authorities denied Pugh entry, however, and sent him on a return flight to Egypt. Upon his arrival in Egypt, Pugh 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. Pugh also had a cellular telephone that contained, among other things, a photograph of a machinegun. Pugh was soon thereafter deported to the United States. 

On Jan. 14, 2015, JTTF agents obtained a search warrant for Pugh’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 Pugh 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, Pugh faces a maximum sentence of 35 years in prison.
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