A former airman has been charged with trying to cross from Turkey to Syria to join the Islamic State terrorist group, according to federal court documents.
In January, Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh was indicted by a federal jury in Brooklyn, New York, for allegedly trying to provide "material support and resources" to the Islamic State. The indictment was unsealed Monday.
Pugh, 47, served in the Air Force from 1986 to 1990, according to an affidavit in support of a warrant for his arrest.
"He worked as an avionics instrument system specialist and received training in the installation and maintenance of aircraft engine, navigation and weapons systems," the affidavit says. "After moving to San Antonio, Texas, in or about 1998, Hugh converted to Islam and became increasingly radical in his beliefs."
Pugh separated from the Air Force in October 1990 as an airman first class, avionics guidance and control systems specialist, said Mike Dickerson, a spokesman for the Air Force Personnel Center.
"Duty assignments included the 23rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in July 1989 and the 581st Aircraft Generation Squadron at Woodbridge Air Base, UK, in July 1987," Dickerson said in an email to Air Force Times.
On Pugh's Linkedin profile, he says has been a maintenance manager with Gryphon Airlines in Kuwait since September. He also says he has "23 years of combined experience in Air Force and A&P/Avionic Tech"
On Jan. 10, Pugh was detained by Turkish authorities when he landed in Istanbul, Turkey, the affidavit says. He claimed to be a "pilot with the United States Special Forces" who was taking a vacation to Turkey, but the Turkish authorities probably suspected that Pugh was really trying to get to Syria, so theyput him on a plane to Cairo.
Before he was deported from Egypt, Pugh told local authorities that he went to Turkey to look for a job, the affidavit says. He also said he had no plans of going to Syria. But his laptop and other electronic devices had appeared to have been "purposely tampered with" to prevent anyone from accessing them.
Pugh also told authorities that he had a wife in Egypt, whom he had repeatedly told that he planned to go to Palestine to "join jihad," the affidavit says.
hadplanned to cross from Turkey into Syria, but his laptop and other electronic equipment had been were tampered with to prevent anyone from using them, the affidavit says. However, his cell phone had a photo of a machine gun and pictures of airplanes, including where passengers put carry-on luggage.
When the FBI searched Pugh's laptop, they found a letter apparently written to his Egyptian wife in which he 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 States. There is only 2 possible outcomes for me. Victory or Martyr."
In a separate email, Pugh told an acquaintance that he had been fired from his job, the affidavit says.
Investigators also found about 180 jihadist videos on his laptop including one that showed the Islamic State lining up prisoners and shooting them in the head one at a time, according to the indictment.
"In addition, Pugh's laptop contained a chart of crossing points between Turkey and Syria, which was downloaded on Jan. 5, 2015," the affidavit says. "The chart, dated December 12, 2014, shows specific places where one may cross the border between Turkey to Syria, information about whether the checkpoints are manned by Turkish authorities, and the particular group(s) who control the inner areas of the border within Syria.
"ISIL [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] appears on the chart as an 'inner border actor,' i.e. a group controlling inner areas of Syria, in multiple places on the chart."
After Pugh flew from Egypt to the U.S., he told a government agent that he should have shaved his beard before arriving in Turkey to avoid looking suspicious, and that the Turks probably deported him because they thought he was a member of the Islamic State.
Pugh is expected to be arraigned on Wednesday morning.
Pugh has expressed support for al-Qaida in the past, the affidavit says. While he was working for American Airlines around 2001, one of his co-workers told the FBI that Pugh "felt the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies overseas were justified and expressed anti-American sentiment."
In 2002, the FBI interviewed "an associate of Pugh's," who said that Pugh wanted to go to Chechnya to fight as a jihadist.
Pugh indictment (source: Department of Justice):