Tairod Pugh, a U.S. Air Force veteran and former aircraft mechanic, was sentenced May 31 to 35 years in prison on the charges of attempting to provide material support for the international terrorist group ISIS and the obstruction of justice. The 49-year-old New Jersey man was found guilty in 2016.
"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 U.S. Attorney Bridget Rohde in a statement.
According to KTVI, Pugh, who converted to Islam, served in the Air Force from 1986 to 1990. In 2001, while working for American Airlines, he was reported to the FBI for sympathizing with Osama Bin Laden and supported the bombing of U.S. embassies in 1998. Then, in 2015, he traveled to Egypt, and then to Turkey. Prosecutors allege that he was attempting to cross the border into Syria to join ISIS.
Pugh was stopped in Turkey and sent back to Egypt, where he was then deported back to the U.S. Investigators at the time said Pugh was carrying a laptop and four USB drives that had been stripped of their identifying features and had their data wiped in an effort to make them unavailable to authorities.
Shortly after returning the the U.S., Pugh was arrested on January 16, 2015 in Asbury Park, New Jersey.
According to CNN, prosecutors found a key piece of evidence in Pugh's desktop computer -- he allegedly wrote a letter just before he left for Turkey saying, "I am a Mujahid. I am a sword against the oppressor and a shield for the oppressed. I will use the talents and skills given to me by Allah to establish and defend the Islamic State. There is only 2 possible outcomes for me. Victory or Martyr."
In addition to the letter, Pugh's computer had recent internet searches for ISIS propaganda videos. According to the Justice Department, Pugh was trained to install and maintain aircraft engines, as well as navigation and weapons systems.
Pugh's lawyer, Eric Criezman, initially said there was reasonable doubt in the case, and spoke about the process his client was about to undertake as important to the American Justice system.
"It's good for the world to see that in this country, you get a trial by jury," Creizman said. "In the Islamic State, people accused for crimes don't get such fair treatment."