NEW YORK (Reuters) - Tairod Pugh, a U.S. Air Force veteran, spent months downloading violent Islamic State videos before boarding a one-way flight from his home in Egypt to Turkey in January 2015.
His intention, federal prosecutors said at the close of his trial in New York on Tuesday, was to cross into Syria and join the militant group’s fighting force.
“He knew his skills as an airplane mechanic would be useful to ISIS,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Tiana Demas, using a common acronym for Islamic State.
But Pugh’s defense attorney, Eric Creizman, told jurors that the fact Pugh shared “repugnant” views about Islamic State did not make him guilty of a crime. His visit to Turkey was an effort to find new employment, Creizman said.
“Mr. Pugh never had any intention of going to the Islamic State,” he said. “Where is that evidence?”
The case against Pugh, 48, is only the second of more than 75 Islamic State-related prosecutions brought by the U.S. Department of Justice to reach trial.
Pugh was detained upon arriving in Istanbul. U.S. authorities would later discover more than 70 jihadist videos on his laptop, as well as numerous online searches for Islamic State, the border between Turkey and Syria and religious justifications for waging war. His Facebook account showed posts and messages supporting Islamic State.
Authorities also found a letter composed to his Egyptian wife, saying he was a “sword against the oppressor and a shield for the oppressed” and declaring he had two options: “Victory or Martyr.”
The letter was written days before he bought his ticket to Turkey, Demas said.
Creizman addressed the letter briefly, saying there was no evidence it had ever been sent. Pugh’s words regarding martyrdom were merely a “fantasy,” Creizman argued.
Demas also pointed to materials Pugh brought with him to Turkey, including a solar-powered flashlight, maps of Islamic State-controlled territory in Syria and a black facemask.
Pugh is charged with attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization. He also faces one count of obstruction for destroying several portable storage devices he had with him at the time of his detention in Turkey.
The jury began deliberating shortly before 5 p.m. EST (2200 GMT) and will continue on Wednesday.
Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Bernard Orr and Tom Brown