By Lindsay Dunsmuir and Nate Raymond
WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. Air Force veteran has been charged with trying to provide support for the Islamic State militant group, U.S. prosecutors said on Tuesday.
A federal grand jury in New York City indicted Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh for attempting to provide material support to the group and attempted obstruction of justice.
Pugh, 47, of Neptune, N.J., is to be arraigned Wednesday morning in federal court in Brooklyn. Michael Schneider, a court-appointed lawyer for Pugh, said his client would plead not guilty.
Prosecutors allege that Pugh, once an avionics instrument system specialist in the U.S. Air Force, attempted to join Islamic State in January by traveling from Egypt to Turkey and trying to cross the border into Syria.
Turkish authorities sent him back to Egypt, which detained him and subsequently deported him to the United States, prosecutors said. Upon his arrival in Egypt, Pugh was carrying several electronic devices, including a mobile phone that had a photograph of a machine gun, authorities said.
In the United States, federal agents searched his laptop computer and other devices and found recent Internet searches for "borders controlled by Islamic State" and a propaganda video by the group.
Although Pugh was arrested in January, the case had been sealed until Tuesday.
Prosecutors said that in the weeks prior to traveling to Egypt, Pugh had been fired from his job as an airplane mechanic for an unidentified company in the Middle East and had lived abroad for a year.
Pugh appeared to have been on U.S. authorities’ radar for some time.
A criminal complaint filed at the time of his arrest said that while he was working as a mechanic for American Airlines, a co-worker tipped the FBI that Pugh "sympathized with Osama bin Laden, felt that the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies were justified and expressed anti-American sentiment."
In 2002, an associate told the FBI that Pugh expressed interest in going to Chechnya to fight, the complaint said.
Despite that background, from October 2009 to March 2010, Pugh worked on aircraft avionics as an Army contractor for DynCorp International in Iraq, prosecutors said. A company spokeswoman had no immediate comment.
The complaint said from 1986 to 1990, Pugh served in the U.S. Air Force. He converted to Islam after moving to San Antonio, Texas, in 1998 and “became increasingly radical in his beliefs,” it said.
(Reporting by Lindsay Dunsmuir and Nate Raymond; Editing by Doina Chiacu)