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NJ Veteran Had Hoped to Join ISIL, Feds Say

BROOKLYN (CN) - A veteran of the U.S. Air Force "turned his back on his country" to join the al-Qaida splinter group ISIL, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.

The government hit Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh, 47, with a two-count indictment for allegedly trying to help the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

A resident of Neptune, N.J., Pugh faces arraignment Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis.

Pugh was an avionics instrument system specialist with the Air Force from 1986 to 1990, prosecutors say. After converting to Islam and becoming "increasingly radical in his beliefs," Pugh eventually found work in aircraft avionics for private companies in the United States and the Middle East, a complaint against Pugh alleges.

Prosecutors say Pugh has been on the FBI's radar since 2001 when the agency received a tip that Pugh had told a co-worker about sympathizing with Osama bin Laden.

Another associate of Pugh's whom the FBI interviewed the next year said Pugh had told him that he wanted to fight jihad in Chechnya.

The veteran's attempt to join ISIL this year came weeks after his last employer in the Middle East fired him as an airplane mechanic, according to the indictment.

Prosecutors say Pugh went from Egypt to Turkey on Jan. 10 to join the terrorist group.

Turkish authorities allegedly turned Pugh away, however, and sent him back to Egypt.

The indictment says Pugh was carrying several USB thumb drives stripped of their plastic casings and an iPod that had no data. He also had a photo of a machine gun on his cellphone.

Authorities arrested Puch pursuant to a federal complaint on Jan. 16 in Asbury Park, N.J. The government had executed a search warrant on his electronic devices two days earlier.

A search of Pugh's laptop showed several recent Internet searches for such phrases like "borders controlled by Islamic state" and views of "Flames of War," an ISIL propaganda video, along with other videos of ISIL members executing prisoners, according to the indictment.

Prosecutors believe that an email to "My Misha" on Pugh's computer was meant for Pugh's Egyptian wife. It says: "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 me to by Allah to establish and defend the Islamic states. There is only 2 possible outcomes for me. Victory or martyr."

Pugh also allegedly looked up charts for crossing between Turkey and Syria, the indictment against him alleges.

In addition to shards of broken USB thumb drives, investigators also recovered two compasses, a solar-powered flashlight, a "solar-powered power source and a fatigue jacket and camping clothes" in Pugh's backpack.

Pugh faces up to 35 years if convicted.

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