BROOKLYN (CN) - A jury on Wednesday found a U.S. Air Force veteran guilty of conspiring to help the Islamic State, in what federal officials call the first criminal conviction on American soil of someone trying to join the terrorist group.
Tairod Pugh, 48, faces up to 35 years in prison when sentenced by U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis in September for trying to join the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.
"This is the first conviction after a trial by jury in the United States involving an individual who attempted to travel to Syria to provide material support to ISIL," Assistant U.S. Attorney General John P. Carlin said.
"Pugh has now been held accountable for his crimes by a jury and will not reach the terrorist group he sought to support," U.S. Attorney Robert Capers said.
Pugh had served as an avionics instrument system specialist with the U.S. Air Force before working for several airline companies in the United States and the Middle East.
He was living in Egypt In January 2015 when he traveled to Turkey to get into Syria, join ISIL and carry out a violent jihad, authorities said during his trial in Brooklyn Federal Court.
He wrote a letter before he left, stating, "I am a Mujahid [someone engaged in a jihad]. 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 (sic) only 2 outcomes for me. Victory or martyr," he continued.
Turkish authorities denied him entry, though, and he was sent back to Egypt.
Pugh was carrying with him a black ski mask, solar power charges, compasses, a laptop and four USB thumb drives that he had stripped of their plastic casings to try to destroy their contents and make them unavailable to investigators.
Authorities said his laptop showed Internet searches for "borders controlled by Islamic state," searches for "Flames of War," an ISIL propaganda video, and horrific videos showing ISIL members executing prisoners.
He also had hundreds of terrorist videos, including one showing "Jihadi John" standing over the decapitated body of aid worker Peter Kassig.
Pugh then took to Facebook to justify the beheading.
"From what I understand he [Kassig] was not an enemy at the time of capture," he wrote of Kassig, a Muslim convert who took the name Abdul-Rahman. "He was doing charity work helping Muslims and Christians and Shia. Whatever the reason is for executing him I am not in a position to judge. The brother died a martyr just as the woman who gave birth and was stoned because she was not married."
Attorney Eric Creizman fought to suppress the videos from being shown during trial after Pugh pleaded not guilty last March.
"This is highly inflammatory material," the attorney wrote in a three-page brief.
"If introduced as evidence, the recording could confuse the issues in this case by raising the specter of people in America committing terrorist acts," he wrote.
Feds arrested Pugh at his home in Asbury Park, New Jersey, shortly after his return to the United States. He was quickly indicted, hauled into court and put to trial.