A U.S. Air Force veteran and former airplane mechanic charged with trying to join the Islamic State will be among the first Americans to go on trial as a result of the U.S. government’s pursuit of dozens of suspected sympathizers of the militant group.
Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh, 48, was stopped at a Turkish airport in January 2015. He told investigators he was just on a vacation, but an indictment alleged that he was carrying 180 jihadist propaganda videos, including one featuring the beheading of an Islamic State prisoner. Later, prosecutors said they found a letter on his computer in which he told his wife he wanted to join the Islamic State.
Jury selection in Pugh’s trial at a federal court in New York City is scheduled to begin in earnest this week. Pugh has pleaded not guilty to charges that he tried to provide material support to a terrorist group and obstructed justice.
The Justice Department said it has pressed criminal charges against more than 70 Islamic State sympathizers, though some published reports have put that figure higher.
Karen J. Greenberg, director of the Fordham Law School’s Center on National Security, which tracks terrorism cases, said the U.S. government has charged 78 people in connection with the group. Of those, two dozen have pleaded guilty.
Opening statements began last week in Phoenix in the trial Abdul Malik Abdul Kareem, a moving company owner charged with plotting to attack a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest in Texas.
Authorities said two of Kareem’s associates were killed when they brought semiautomatic rifles, bulletproof vests and an Islamic State flag to the event. Kareem’s lawyer, blaming the government’s “overactive imagination,” told jurors Kareem had no knowledge the attack was to occur.
Other cases are moving closer to trial, including in Minneapolis, where several members of Minnesota’s Somali community are scheduled for trial in May on charges that they plotted to join Islamic State fighters.
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