NEPTUNE, N.J. – The aunt of a Neptune man accused of plotting to join the terrorist group ISIS said she is in disbelief that Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh could commit such acts.
Speaking through the screen door of her house on Thursday morning, Helena Pugh told the Asbury Park Press she hadn't seen her nephew Tairod in several years, but that his family is "hurt" by the news.
"I feel bad," said Pugh, 78. "I don't know how he came to be the person that he is."
Tairod Pugh, a former U.S. Air Force veteran and airplane mechanic, was indicted on charges of attempting to provide material support to a terrorist group and obstruction of justice, according to the indictment. He pleaded not guilty in federal court in New York on Wednesday.
Helena Pugh said she was married to Tairod's uncle, Samuel Pugh, who is deceased. She said that she has grown close to Pugh's father, who still lives in the area, over the years.
"Even his father is just overwhelmed by it," she said. "He can't believe it himself."
Attempts to reach Pugh's father were unsuccessful.
Tairod Pugh was arrested Jan. 16 in Asbury Park by federal authorities. A Federal Bureau of Investigation representative declined to say what he was doing in Asbury Park or where he was arrested.
Pugh last lived in Neptune in 2008 and had a number of addresses in Asbury Park dating back to 1993.
Helena Pugh said Tairod came from a nice family with some relatives that were longtime residents of Neptune.
Tairod's mother is still living and he also has siblings, Helena Pugh said. She was uncertain where any of them resided.
Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh
Photo Credit: COURTESY OF FACEBOOK
Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh served in the Air Force from 1986 to 1990 and was trained in installing and maintaining aircraft engines and navigation and weapons systems, according to Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch's office.
Pugh was an airman first class, avionics guidance and control systems specialist, according to the Air Force. He was assigned to the Woodbridge Air Base in England in July 1987 and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona in July 1989.
Federal authorities say Pugh converted to Islam and became more radical in his beliefs in 1998 while in San Antonio.
According to the indictment, agents believe he tried to provide the materials, which were stored in his laptop and other electronic devices, to the Islamic State group.
Days before his arrest, Pugh hopped to Turkey from Egypt, where he had lived for about a year, according to the indictment. Turkish authorities stopped Pugh in the airport, after he refused to give access to his laptop as part of the border crossing search.
Pugh's attorney, Michael K. Schneider, declined comment in an email. If convicted, Pugh could face up to 35 years in prison, according to the indictment.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.