A U.S. Air Force veteran has received a 35-year prison sentence for allegedly trying to join terrorist group ISIS.
New Jersey man Tairod Pugh, 49, was found guilty and sentenced to 35 years in jail for obstruction of justice and attempting to give material support to ISIS, CNN reports.
"The defendant turned his back on his country, and the military he once served, to attempt to join a brutally violent terrorist organization committed to the slaughter of innocent people throughout the world," said acting United States Attorney Bridget Rohde.
"This isn't about whether you're Muslim, or Christian or Jewish," said Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis, according to the New York Daily News. "This is about whether you're going to stand up for your country, which has done so much for you, or betray your country. You've made your choice, sir. I have no sympathy."
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The former Air Force mechanic had reportedly traveled to Turkey in January 2015 in an attempt to join the terror group in Syria. He was caught by Turkish authorities, who sent him back to the United States, where he was convicted in March 2016.
When he was detained in Egypt, investigators discovered electronics that had been tampered with so that they couldn't be accessed by authorities. Pugh was allegedly carrying "four USB thumb drives that had been stripped of their plastic casings and an iPod that had been wiped clean of data."
The man's laptop and social media accounts contained ISIS propaganda and material that suggested he was sympathetic to the group.
Pugh's lawyer, Susan Kellman, pushed for a lighter, 15-year sentence, arguing that the man was mentally ill and a "very confused individual" who never actually contacted ISIS.
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According to prosecutors, investigators looking at files on Pugh's computer found a chart of crossing points from Turkey to Syria and a letter describing how he wanted to "use the talents and skills given to me by Allah to establish and defend the Islamic States."
Pugh also wrote a letter just before leaving for Turkey calling himself a "Mujahid," or someone engaged in a jihad.
"I am a sword against the oppressor and a shield for the oppressed," he wrote. "There is only 2 possible outcomes for me. Victory or Martyr."
Pugh was reported to have radicalized over a decade ago. One of Pugh's co-workers at American Airlines in 2001 said in a criminal complaint that the mechanic "sympathized with Osama bin Laden, felt that the 1998 bombings of US embassies overseas was justified and expressed anti-American sentiment."