Ex-US Airman Denies Bid To Help Islamic State

Ex-US Airman Denies Bid To Help Islamic State

A US Air Force veteran stopped at a Turkish airport has denied trying to aid the Islamic State extremist group.

Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh, 47, a former airplane mechanic, pleaded not guilty in a Brooklyn federal courthouse on Wednesday.

He is accused of attempting to provide material support to the jihadist group, which has taken over large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria.

Mr Pugh is also charged with attempted obstruction of justice.

Prosecutors say he had a laptop containing information on border crossings into Syria when he was stopped at a Turkish airport in January.

He also allegedly had 180 jihadist propaganda videos, including some of IS prisoner beheadings.

US Attorney Loretta Lynch said in a statement that Mr Pugh "allegedly turned his back on his country and attempted to travel to Syria in order to join a terrorist organisation".

According to court documents, Mr Pugh served in the Air Force as an avionics instrument system specialist.

He also had training in the installation and maintenance of aircraft engine, navigation and weapons systems.

Prosecutors said Mr Pugh had been sacked from his most recent job as an airplane mechanic based in the Middle East.

Within weeks of being let go, Mr Pugh attempted to travel from Egypt to Turkey, where he planned to cross the border into Syria, prosecutors said.

Turkish officials denied him entry, however, and he was put on a flight back to Egypt.

Upon his return, authorities found he had several electronic devices, including USB thumb drives that had been wiped clean of data, according to court documents.

Mr Pugh was then deported to the US and arrested on 16 January after authorities issued search warrants for the devices and his laptop computer.

Investigators found a history of multiple internet searches for information on IS, including details on territories currently held by the group and border crossings, the Justice Department said.

A criminal complaint filed at the time of his arrest said that while working as a mechanic for American Airlines, a co-worker tipped the FBI that Mr Pugh "sympathised with Osama bin Laden".

The colleague also said Mr Pugh "felt that the 1998 bombings of US embassies were justified and expressed anti-American sentiment".

Mr Pugh converted to Islam after moving to San Antonio, Texas, in 1998 and "became increasingly radical in his beliefs", the complaint said.

If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 35 years in prison.