A prosecutor displayed jihadist videos and Facebook postings from Air Force veteran Tairod Pugh’s laptop and called him a “true believer” during closing arguments Tuesday as one of the first criminal trials of a recruit for trying to join the Islamic State neared completion in federal court in Brooklyn on Tuesday.
“The defendant is not being prosecuted for having these videos,” prosecutor Tiana Demas said after showing black-clad ISIS troops preparing to slit the throats of Syrian soldiers. “But they are relevant because they show his intent, they show what was going on in his head.”
Pugh, 48, an itinerant airplane mechanic from New Jersey, is accused of flying to Turkey last year to try to join ISIS in Syria, but was stopped and sent back to the United States via Egypt. An unsent letter to his wife pledging to become a “mujahedin” was found on his laptop among the ISIS links and maps of the border.
But Pugh’s lawyers contend he went to Turkey to clear his head and scout out work opportunities after losing a job in Kuwait. Defense lawyer Eric Creizman told jurors there was no evidence he had contacted ISIS beforehand, as most new recruits to the terror group do, and said ISIS sympathies are not a crime.
“It’s one thing to say you are going to do it,” Creizman argued. “It’s another thing to actually do it.”
After a day of summations and instructions from U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis, the jury began deliberating shortly after 4:30 p.m. and continued for nearly 90 minutes.
Pugh is charged with attempting to provide material support for a terror group in the form of his own services, and obstruction of justice for attempting to destroy his laptop and several thumb drives after he came under scrutiny in Turkey. He faces up to 35 years in prison if convicted.
In addition to ISIS propaganda, the letter to his Egyptian wife and maps of border areas on his laptop, prosecutors said he had backpacks with items such as a black balaclava — a hooded mask — and solar-powered flashlight and charger. He also met with an undercover agent posing as an ISIS recruit at Kennedy Airport, where they discussed how to avoid attracting attention in Turkey.
Creizman said the elliptical conversation with the undercover was misinterpreted by the government, but seemed baffled by how to handle the “mujahedin” letter to Pugh’s wife — noting that it was never sent, but acknowledging that it was “problematic.”
Deliberations resume Wednesday.