Air Force Vet Tairod Pugh Convicted For ISIS Ties, But Lawyer Calls His Interest A ‘Fantasy’

Tairod Pugh is now the first U.S. citizen to be convicted of attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State, a connection that his defense lawyers called a “fantasy.”

According to the Washington Post, Tairod Pugh, 48, is the first person to be found guilty of harboring ISIS support and connections after jurors weighed evidence at trial. He’s not the first person to be convicted, however; so far, 24 others have been found guilty of various terrorism offenses.

Tairod Pugh stood accused of trying to enter Syria to join the Islamic State, and at trial, prosecutors provided evidence that showed he researched the group on the internet and viewed terrorist videos. His conversation at an airport with an undercover FBI agent also proved damning.

Tairod Pugh is a U.S. Air Force veteran. He served as an avionics instrument system specialist from 1986 to 1990.

Pugh showed interest in extremism before the terror group gained power in the Middle East. Back in 2002, Tairod expressed an interest in moving to Chechnya to “fight jihad” and reportedly sympathized with the now-deceased leader of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden.

Tairod’s interest in ISIS apparently escalated a couple years ago, according to Pugh’s defense lawyer, Eric Creizman. He insisted at trial that Pugh’s affinity for the terror group was pure “fantasy,” the Associated Press reported.

It seemed to start when the veteran lost his job as an aviation mechanic, where his supervisor talked to him like he was an “idiot.” The experience left him “feeling small and inconsequential,” and in the summer of 2014, Pugh started researching the extremist group. They impressed him with their determination not to “back down from anything.” At one point, Tairod expressed a desire to move to the Middle East with his wife.

Creizman noted that Tairod simply had an interest in Middle Eastern politics and read articles about ISIS written by mainstream media — some of it critical — but admitted his client had offensive opinions.

Prosecutors turned to Pugh’s internet search history as evidence that the veteran’s interest was more than just fantasy. Tairod had researched ISIS borders, which prosecutors said revealed his true intent. And so did a letter Pugh wrote to his wife, in which those intentions seem fairly clear.

“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.”

Last year, Tairod Pugh turned these words and research into action. He traveled from Egypt to Turkey, intending to cross into Syria and join ISIS. Turkish authorities stopped his progress, and Pugh was deported.

After that, the FBI kept an eye on Tairod. An undercover agent posing as an ISIS sympathizer spoke with Pugh in John F. Kennedy Airport last year and testified at trial, Fox News added. The conversation between the men implied Tairod’s sympathies. He told the agent that he expected to get arrested at any moment and gave him advice about how to blend in if he went to Turkey.

Creizman argued that in these conversations, Tairod never admitted to having contact with ISIS, shared his plans to travel to Syria, or revealed that he wanted to either wage jihad or be martyred.

Nonetheless, a Brooklyn jury spent a week deliberating before handing down the guilty verdict. The government has brought more than 70 cases against U.S. citizens attempting to support ISIS. Some defendants have pleaded guilty.

“Pugh has now been held accountable for his crimes by a jury and will not reach the terrorist group he sought to support,” said U.S. Attorney Robert L. Capers of the Eastern District of New York

Tairod will be sentenced in September and could face up to 35 years in prison.

[Photo by Elizabeth Williams/AP]