An Air Force veteran and former mechanic for a major U.S. airline was indicted this week on charges that he traveled overseas and attempted to fight alongside Islamic State extremists in the Middle East, federal investigators said Tuesday.
Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh, 47, of Neptune, N.J., was arrested in January after Egyptian authorities deported him back to this country, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Pugh lawyer Michael Schneider told the Associated Press that he would plead not guilty. He declined to comment further.
Pugh, who had been working as an airplane mechanic in the region, tried to travel from Egypt to Turkey, allegedly to join the Islamic State group, on Jan. 10, but was denied entry by Turkish authorities.
When he was returned to the United States on Jan. 14, members of the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force searched his electronic devices and found multiple searches for information about crossing the border from Turkey into Syria, authorities said. He allegedly had downloaded more than 180 propaganda videos that showed Islamic State extremists executing hostages and committing other acts of violence.
"As alleged, Pugh, an American citizen, was willing to travel overseas and fight jihad alongside terrorists seeking to do us harm," Diego Rodriguez, assistant director in charge of the FBI's New York City field office, said in a statement.
Pugh served in the Air Force as a system specialist from 1986 to 1990, according to court filings. He was trained in the installation and maintenance of various kinds of U.S. aircraft engines and navigation and weapons systems.
He was stationed in Arizona and Britain during his four years of service, according to an Air Force spokesman. It was not clear if Pugh was honorably discharged.
Pugh had been on the FBI's radar since 2001. While working as a mechanic for American Airlines, he told a coworker he sympathized with Osama bin Laden, according to the complaint.
His anger toward the United States began to materialize in 1998, according to the complaint, when he moved to San Antonio, "converted to Islam and became increasingly radical in his beliefs."
Pugh had been living in Egypt, Dubai, and Jordan since 2013, relatives told the FBI, and was working as an airport mechanic in the region before he was arrested.
His alleged attempt to join the Islamic State group was thwarted Jan. 10, when he was stopped by security forces at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul. Pugh, who identified himself as a pilot with the U.S. military, refused to allow airport officials to search his laptop. He was sent back to Cairo, and then deported to the United States.
In the weeks before his flight to Turkey, Pugh made his intentions to join Islamic State clear in an e-mail to his wife, whom he met in Egypt sometime in the last year, according to the complaint.
Pugh, who is charged with attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization, faces up to 35 years in prison if convicted, federal investigators said. His next court appearance is scheduled for Wednesday.