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U.S. Air Force vet charged in plot to aid IS group

Colleen Long
Associated Press

New York — A U.S. Air Force veteran who was recently fired from his job as an airplane mechanic plotted to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State group and was arrested on terrorism charges, federal prosecutors said.

Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh, of Neptune, New Jersey was indicted Monday on charges of attempting to provide material support to a terrorist group and obstruction of justice. He was in custody and will appear Wednesday in federal court in New York City. His lawyer didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

The 47-year-old Pugh served in the Air Force as an avionics instrument system specialist from 1986 to 1990, and received training in the installation and maintenance of aircraft engines and navigation and weapons systems, according to federal prosecutors. After leaving the Air Force, he worked for a number of companies in the United States and Middle East as an avionics specialist and airplane mechanic, and was living abroad for at least a year before he was charged, investigators said.

Prosecutors said he had been fired from his most recent job and decided to join the terror group, traveling from Egypt to Turkey to ultimately cross the border into Syria. He was stopped at the Turkish border and was turned away, they said.

A search of his laptop and other devices turned up jihadist propaganda videos, and a letter that says “I will use the talents and skills given to me by Allah to establish and defend the Islamic States,” prosecutors said.

The Department of Justice has charged roughly 20 people in the past year with planning to travel to the Middle East to fight alongside militants like the Islamic State group, which controls parts of Syria and Iraq. Federal officials have been concerned about Americans going overseas to train with these groups and returning with plots to carry out attacks at home.

“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,” U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said in a statement Tuesday.

Three men were arrested late last month in a plot to travel to Syria; they have pleaded not guilty.