A U.S. Air Force veteran was found guilty of attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State Wednesday in what authorities hailed as a first-of-its-kind conviction after a trial.
There have been 24 other people convicted in connection with Islamic State offenses. But Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh, 48, is the first to be found guilty by a jury weighing evidence at at trial, Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin said in a news release.
The conviction comes as prosecutors in Arizona are trying to convince jurors that another Islamic State supporter, 44-year-old Abdul Malik Abdul Kareem, helped in a 2015 attack on a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest in Texas.
Pugh, of Neptune, New Jersey, served in the Air Force from October 1986 until October 1990 as an an avionics instrument system specialist, authorities have said. He traveled last year from Egypt to Turkey — hoping to cross the border into Syria and join the Islamic State — but was intercepted by Turkish authorities and eventually deported to the U.S., prosecutors said. There, prosecutors said, the FBI monitored Pugh closely, including having an undercover employee keep tabs on him at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport.
Court records say Pugh became interested in extremism long before the rise of the Islamic State. An associate told the FBI that he showed interested in moving to Chechnya to “fight jihad” as far back as 2002. He was also said to have sympathized with al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
At his trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Pugh had searched the internet for “borders controlled by Islamic state” and downloaded terrorist videos, the Justice Department said in a news release. They also introduced as evidence a letter in which Pugh wrote, “I am a Mujahid. I am a sword against the oppressor and a shield for the oppressed. I will use the talents and skills given to me by Allah to establish and defend the Islamic State. There is only 2 possible outcomes for me. Victory or Martyr.”
U.S. Attorney Robert L. Capers of the Eastern District of New York said in a statement that the jury’s verdict should “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 has now been held accountable for his crimes by a jury and will not reach the terrorist group he sought to support,” Capers said.
Pugh faces a possible maximum sentence of 35 years in prison. A sentencing date has not yet been set.