U.S. Air Force veteran Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh of Neptune, New Jersey, was expected in a Brooklyn, New York, court Wednesday for allegedly attempting to join the Islamic State group in January. He faces charges of attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization, but Pugh’s history of sympathy for extremists could date back much further than these recent events.
According to his indictment by a grand jury in Brooklyn, Pugh allegedly flew to Turkey from Egypt on Jan. 10 after being fired from his job as an airplane mechanic in Kuwait in December. From Turkey, he was planning to attempt to join the Islamic State group, NBC News reported. But upon his arrival in Turkey, he was denied entry and sent back to Egypt. There, he was found with odd items, such as a photo of a machine gun. He was deported to the United States on Jan. 15. The next day, he was arrested in New Jersey. Below are five key facts about Pugh.
1. He is 47 years old and was born and raised in the United States. In 2008, he lived in New Jersey, in the borough of Neptune, and also had several addresses as far back as 1993 in the nearby city of Asbury Park, the Asbury Park Press reported.
2. He had a family, including children. On Jan. 5, he wrote a letter to his wife saying he was a “sword against the oppressor and a shield for the oppressed.” The government believes he converted to Islam around 1998 and from there became increasingly radical, according to the Asbury Park Press.
3. From 1986 to 1990, Pugh served in the Air Force as an avionics instrument specialist. After he left the military, he continued working as a specialist and as an airplane mechanic for companies in the Middle East.
4. He’s not guilty, his lawyer, Michael Schneider, told CNN. Pugh faces up to 35 years in prison.
5. Pugh may have sympathized with former al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. In 2002 he reportedly also considered going to Chechnya to wage jihad, the Asbury Park Press found.