Air Force veteran arrested after allegedly trying to join ISIS

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By Jason Hanna and Joshua Gaynor

(CNN – March 17, 2015) — A U.S. Air Force veteran tried to join ISIS in Syria but was turned back by Turkish authorities before he could get to the war-torn country, U.S. authorities allege in a two-count indictment announced Tuesday.

Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh, accused of making the foiled attempt in January, was indicted by a grand jury this week on charges of trying to give material support to the terror group, and obstruction of justice, the U.S. Justice Department said.

Among the evidence, prosecutors allege: Investigators discovered on his laptop computer recent Internet searches for information on “borders controlled by Islamic state,” and a chart of crossing points between Turkey and Syria, where ISIS controls some territory.

Pugh was arrested upon his return to the United States in January and will be arraigned Wednesday in a federal court in New York, the Justice Department said.

“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,” Assistant U.S. Attorney General John Carlin said, using an alternate acronym for the Islamist terror group that controls territory in parts of Iraq and Syria.

Pugh will plead not guilty on Wednesday, his attorney, Michael Schneider, said.

The defendant, a former avionics instrument system specialist in the Air Force, flew from Egypt to Turkey on January 10, weeks after being fired from a Middle East-based job as an airplane mechanic, U.S. authorities allege.

But Turkey, for reasons the Justice Department didn’t specify, denied him entry and sent him on a return flight to Egypt. In Egypt, he 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 Justice Department said in a statement.

Pugh was deported to the United States, where agents with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force obtained a warrant for his devices, including the laptop, the department said.

Besides the Internet searches and Turkey/Syria border chart, agents found “Internet searches for ‘Flames of War,’ an ISIL propaganda video, as well as downloaded videos, including one showing ISIL members executing prisoners,” the Justice Department said.

Pugh was arrested in Asbury Park, New Jersey, on January 16.

It wasn’t immediately clear when Pugh served in the Air Force. While in the service, he was trained in installing and maintaining aircraft engine, navigation and weapons systems, the Justice Department said.

If convicted, Pugh could be sentenced to up to 35 years in prison.

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