WASHINGTON – A former U.S. Air Force mechanic has been formally charged with trying to join the Islamic State in Syria, the Justice Department announced Tuesday in a statement.
The accused was identified as Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh, a 47-year-old U.S. citizen who served as an avionics and instrumentation specialist in the Air Force from 1986-1990.
He is facing charges of “attempting to provide material support” to a terrorist organization and obstruction of justice for destroying evidence.
“Born and raised in the United States, Pugh allegedly turned his back on his country and attempted to travel to Syria in order to join a terrorist organization,” said President Barack Obama’s nominee for attorney general, Loretta E. Lynch, the U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of New York.
“We will continue to vigorously prosecute extremists, whether based here or abroad, to stop them before they are able to threaten the United States and its allies,” she added.
Legal documents in the case say that Pugh attempted to join the IS between May 2014 and Jan. 12 of this year.
Authorities said that the accused flew on Jan. 10 from Egypt to Turkey to join the jihadists in Syria after losing his job as an aircraft mechanic in the Middle East.
Pugh was deported from Turkey to Egypt and then from that country to the United States, where he was arrested on Jan. 16.
Before his arrest, Pugh tried to destroy four thumb drives which, investigators say, show that he consulted Internet Web sites regarding border crossing points between Syria and Turkey controlled by the IS and downloaded videos showing executions by that group.
If found guilty, Pugh could face up to 35 years in prison.