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Sunday, June 16, 2024 | Back issues
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Videos Don’t Make a Terrorist, Attorneys Say

BROOKLYN (CN) - Hundreds of terrorist videos on a former U.S. Air Force mechanic's computer, including one of "Jihadi John" standing over a decapitated man, do not make him a terrorist, defense attorneys argue.

The issue before U.S. District Court Nicholas Garaufis is the government's intent to show hundreds of videos, documents and other materials plucked from the computer of Tairod Pugh that prosecutors say will buoy their argument that he planned to join the Islamic State and carry out acts of terrorism.

Attorney Eric Creizman says the government's request to present at least 180 ISIL and jihadist videos and thousands of files it found on the 47-year-old's computer is too vague and leaves Pugh's legal team unable to "mount a challenge" in his defense. Pugh's trial is expected to start in July.

In fact, plans to show video of the notorious "Jihadi John" and the beheading of Peter Kassig would be misleading to a jury because Pugh, who is Muslim, publicly decried Kassig's killing on Facebook, Creizman argued in a brief filed Wednesday.

"From what I understand he [Kassig] was not an enemy at the time of capture," Pugh allegedly wrote on his Facebook page about the death of Kassig, a Muslim convert who took the name Abdul-Rahman. "He was doing charity work helping Muslims and Christian and Shia. Whatever the reason is for his 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."

Showing the videos from Pugh's computer "is likely to inflame the jury and result in undue prejudice to Pugh for his mere possession of it," Creizman's brief states.

Also at issue is an audio file found on his computer that contains footage of an American citizen proclaiming devotion to ISIL.

"This is highly inflammatory material," Creizman argued. "If introduced as evidence, the recording could confuse the issues in this case by raising the specter of people in America committing terrorist acts."

The 3-page brief accuses the government of being too vague about what it intends to show at trial when it makes its case, thus hobbling Pugh's attorneys' ability to defend him.

Forcing the U.S. government to provide its list of intended videos and documents "well in advance of trial will ensure that the trial runs efficiently and without unnecessary delays," his attorneys said.

Garaufis has not made an official decision on what to do with the presentation of the videos.

The U.S. Department of Justice also filed court documents, asking the judge to allow at least 500 prospective jurors to be summoned to fill out questionnaires by Feb. 9 so that it can mount the case against Pugh. Garaufis approved the motion.

Pugh went to Turkey to make his way into Syria and join the Islamic State, prosecutors say. He didn't make it and was turned back when authorities found a picture of a machine gun on him.

He was arrested in January 2015 and extradited to Brooklyn. Pugh pleaded not guilty to terrorism charges last March.

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