Former Air Force Mechanic Sentenced to 35 Years in Prison for Joining ISIS

Civilians flee fighting between Iraqi special forces and Islamic State militants in Mosul. Civilians flee fighting between Iraqi special forces and Islamic State militants in Mosul. Maya Alleruzzo / AP

A onetime Air Force avionics mechanic and U.S. citizen was sentenced to 35 years in prison for seeking to join the ISIS terrorist group, acting Assistant Attorney General Dana Boente announced on Wednesday.

Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh, of Neptune, N.J., was convicted in a Brooklyn court in March for obstruction of justice and attempting to provide “material support” to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria when he traveled to the Middle East two years earlier. Pugh serviced aircraft while in the Air Force from 1986-1990 and later worked for private airlines.

He had undergone a conversion. “I am a Mujahid. I am a sword against the oppressor and a shield for the oppressed,” he wrote in a note before traveling to Egypt and Turkey in January 2015.  “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.”

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Denied entry at the Syrian border, he was later arrested in Egypt when U.S. authorities found incriminating thumb drives and a laptop. They contained Internet searches for “borders controlled by Islamic state,” the ISIS propaganda video “Flames of War” and ISIS execution videos. In the months before his overseas trip, Pugh made statements to coworkers and on social media establishing his support for ISIS.

“With this sentence, Tairod Pugh…is being held accountable for attempting to travel to Syria to provide material support to ISIS,” Boente said. “We are committed to bringing to justice all those who seek to provide material support to foreign terrorist organizations.”

Acting U.S. Attorney Bridget Rohde for the Eastern District of New York said, “The defendant turned his back on his country, and the military he once served, to attempt to join a brutally violent terrorist organization committed to the slaughter of innocent people throughout the world and the destruction of our way of life. Today’s sentence sends a powerful message that those who support terrorist groups and seek to obstruct the efforts of our law enforcement community will be brought to justice.”

The government’s case was handled by the FBI New York field office’s National Security & Cybercrime Section, and the investigation was conducted under its Joint Terrorism Task Force.

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