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US Jury Convicts Ex-Air Force Member of Trying to Join IS

  • Ken Schwartz

FILE - Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh (r) sits at the defense table with his attorney Zachary S. Taylor, during jury selection in a federal court in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Feb. 24, 2016.

FILE - Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh (r) sits at the defense table with his attorney Zachary S. Taylor, during jury selection in a federal court in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Feb. 24, 2016.

A federal jury in New York Wednesday found a former member of the U.S. Air Force guilty of trying to enter Syria and join Islamic State.

Forty-eight year-old Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh faces up to 35 years in federal prison when he is sentenced later this year.

This is the first time a jury has convicted a suspect for trying to join the Islamic State terrorist group. Others have entered plea bargains to avoid trial.

U.S. Attorney Robert L. Capers said Wednesday "the evidence presented at trial and the jury's verdict instill confidence that our law enforcement agencies and their many important partners at home and abroad work effectively to disrupt and defeat the deadly siren's call of terrorist groups around the globe."

Pugh was an Air Force technician who specialized in installing and maintaining engines and navigation and weapons systems. He worked as an airplane mechanic in the U.S. and Middle East after leaving the service.

Prosecutors say Pugh traveled from Egypt to Turkey in January, 2015 to try to cross the border with Syria and join up with Islamic State to wage "jihad." Turkish authorities sent him back to Egypt and he was deported back to the United States within days.

With the help of an undercover agent, the FBI arrested Pugh less than a week after he returned to New York.

Investigators found evidence on Pugh's laptop computer, including gruesome Islamic State videos of executions, terrorist propaganda videos, and a letter Pugh wrote before heading to Egypt. He declared himself an Islamic warrior who intended to defend Islamic State.

"There are only two possible outcomes for me," he wrote. "Victory or martyr."

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