Federal prosecutors say a U.S. Air Force veteran from New Jersey has been arrested on terrorism charges in a plot to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State group.


Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh
Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh (PIX 11)

A grand jury indicted Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh of Neptune on charges of attempting to provide material support to a terrorist group and obstruction of justice.

Pugh is scheduled to appear Wednesday in federal court in New York City and is now in custody. It isn't immediately clear whether he had been assigned an attorney who could comment on the charges against him.

Prosecutors say the 47-year-old Pugh had been fired from his most recent job as an airplane mechanic based in the Middle East. Prosecutors say he tried to travel from Egypt to Turkey to ultimately cross the border into Syria.

The charges were announced by Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York; John P. Carlin, Assistant Attorney General for National Security; Diego G. Rodriguez, Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office; and William J. Bratton, Commissioner, New York City Police Department.

Lynch said Pugh has been in custody since his arrest in Asbury Park on a federal complaint on January.

“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,” Lynch said. “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.”

According to court papers, Pugh served as an avionics instrument system specialist and received training in the installation and maintenance of aircraft engine, navigation, and weapons systems and, after leaving the Air Force, did similar work for several private companies in the U.S. and Middle East.

According to a statement released by authorities, Pugh was fired from a job as an airplane mechanic in the Middle East earlier this year and attempted to join ISIL a few weeks later.

"On January 10, 2015, the defendant traveled from Egypt to Turkey in an effort to cross the border into Syria to join ISIL and fight violent jihad," the statement says. "Turkish authorities denied the defendant entry, however, and sent him on a return flight to Egypt."

Once in Egypt, Pugh was found to be carrying "multiple electronic devices, including four USB thumb drives that had been stripped of their plastic casings and an iPod that had been wiped clean of data." the statement said. "The defendant also had a cellular telephone that contained, among other things, a photograph of a machine gun." He was then deported to the U.S.

A search warrant and subsequent search of Pugh's electronic devices, turned up the following, according to authorities:

  • recent Internet searches for “borders controlled by Islamic state”,
  • recent Internet searches for “who controls kobani,” “kobani border crossing,” and “jarablus border crossing,” all references to Syrian cities under ISIL’s control near the Turkish border,
  • a chart of crossing points between Turkey and Syria indicating the areas on the Syrian side of the border controlled by ISIL and other groups, and
  • Internet searches for “Flames of War,” an ISIL propaganda video, as well as downloaded videos, including one showing ISIL members executing prisoners.

If convicted, Pugh could face up to 35 years in prison.

Associated Press contributed to this story.