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Former Air Force mechanic held without bail for allegedly trying to join Islamic State

U.S. Marshalls stand outside the U.S. Eastern District

U.S. Marshalls stand outside the U.S. Eastern District Court in Brooklyn on Wednesday, March 18, 2015, as Air Force veteran Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh is arraigned, accused of trying to join the Islamic State terror group. Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

A federal prosecutor said at a Brooklyn court hearing Wednesday that he expected to engage in plea negotiations with Tairod Pugh, the former Air Force mechanic charged with trying to join the Islamic State.

Pugh, 47, of Neptune, New Jersey, was held without bail after pleading not guilty before U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis, who repeated five different times that he wanted to move the case to trial quickly if there isn't a guilty plea.

"I'm prepared to try this case this summer, so don't make any vacation plans," Garaufis told the lawyers. "I think an early trial is appropriate in a case like this."

Pugh has been in custody since being charged in a sealed complaint in January. He allegedly flew from Egypt to Turkey to try to join the terror group in Syria, but was stopped and deported to the United States.

An Air Force avionics specialist from 1986 to 1990, his radical beliefs had been the subject of tips to the FBI as long ago as 2001, but he nonetheless worked as a mechanic for American Airlines and for a military contractor in Iraq.

Pugh, a bearded man in a black T-shirt and tan dungarees, stood with his hands behind his back and did nothing Wednesday except tell Garaufis his name and listen to a reading of charges that he tried to provide a terror group with material support, and obstructed justice by scrubbing his digital devices of potential evidence.

Prosecutor Sam Nitze told the judge at the start of the hearing, "The parties expect to be engaged in plea negotiations."

Michael Schneider, Pugh's court-appointed lawyer, did not dispute Nitze but said he needs to get access to the hard drive of his client's laptop for a forensic exam and gather information about witnesses in Egypt and Turkey before the case can move forward.

"We have to review the discovery before we do anything like plea negotiations," he told reporters.

Pugh was overseas for the past 12 to 18 months, and lost a job in Kuwait in December, court filings said. Prosecutors have not cited statements by Pugh about joining the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, but say he downloaded jihadist videos and maps of Syria, held radical beliefs and had camping equipment in his backpack.

He is charged with attempting to provide material support for the Islamic State by trying to join, and with obstructing justice by scrubbing his digital devices, and faces up to 35 years in prison. Garaufis set another hearing for May 8.


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