- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A U.S. Air Force veteran and Muslim convert has been indicted by a Brooklyn grand jury on federal charges of trying to join the Islamic State terrorist group.

Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh is charged with attempting to provide material support to a terror organization and attempted obstruction of an official proceeding, the Justice Department announced Tuesday.

Mr. Pugh was arrested secretly in January after having been deported from Egypt, and the U.S. grand jury issued an indictment Monday. He is charged with attempting to join the Sunni terrorist organization between last May and this January.

According to a federal criminal complaint, which was released to reporters Tuesday, Mr. Pugh converted to Islam in the late 1990s.

“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,” U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said in a statement released Tuesday. “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.”

Mr. Pugh is scheduled to make his first court appearance Wednesday in New York City.

His lawyer, Michael K. Schneider, told reporters Tuesday that his client would plead not guilty, but he did not elaborate.

The criminal complaint says that Mr. Pugh wrote last month in a letter, which federal law enforcement discovered on his laptop computer, that he planned to join the Islamic State and win martyrdom.

“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,” he wrote, according to the complaint.

The indictment against Mr. Pugh also charges that he tried to destroy four USB thumb drives leading up to his arrest.

A statement released by the Justice Department on Tuesday said he tried to gain entry into Turkey on Jan. 10, 2015, but was denied entry and sent back to Egypt, where he had been residing.

Authorities found him with damaged USB devices and a cellphone that contained a picture of a machine gun. He was then deported to the U.S.

The Air Force veteran, who was a specialist in avionics instruments from 1986 to 1990 and was trained in installing and maintaining Air Force planes’ weapons systems, could be sentenced to 35 years in prison if convicted.

According to the complaint, Mr. Pugh had spent the years since leaving the Air Force working as an avionics specialist for several companies in the civilian aircraft and airline industries, sometimes as a resident in the Middle East.

One of those companies was American Airlines, and the complaint says he was working there in 2001 when the FBI got a tip from a co-worker who said Mr. Pugh expressed sympathy for Osama bin Laden. Another tip to the FBI, this one in 2002, said Mr. Pugh had told a friend he was interested in traveling to Chechnya to wage jihad.

Mr. Pugh is the latest of nearly two dozen Americans who have been charged in the past year by federal authorities on charges of attempting to fly to the Middle East to fight alongside Islamist terror groups such as al Qaeda or the Islamic State.

Lawmakers and federal law-enforcement officials have expressed repeated concerns about the possibility that Americans could receive jihad training in the Middle East and return home by-right and execute terrorist plots upon their return,

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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