NEW YORK - A former US Air Force mechanic was sentenced to 35 years in prison Wednesday for attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group and for obstruction of justice.
The 49-year-old veteran and Muslim convert was convicted at trial in New York last March, having being arrested in New Jersey in January 2015.
Prosecutors said Tairod Pugh tried to join the ISIS group by travelling from Egypt to Turkey in early 2015 with the intent of entering Syria. He was detained at Istanbul airport, sent back to Egypt and deported home.
Pugh spent the previous 18 months living in the Middle East, mostly in Egypt, and allegedly tried to travel to Syria weeks after being sacked as a plane mechanic.
In Egypt, he allegedly told Egyptian authorities that he would rather be deported anywhere in the Middle East because "the US doesn't like black Muslims."
The felon, who converted to Islam in 1998, served in the US Air Force from 1986 to 1990 as an instrument specialist and was trained in aircraft engine, navigation and weapons systems maintenance.
During the trial prosectors presented evidence obtained from Pugh's laptop and social media posts. The computer showed he had searched the internet for crossing points into Syria and downloaded terror-related videos.
The government also introduced a letter that Pugh wrote shortly before leaving Egypt.
It said: "I will use the talents and skills given to me by Allah to establish and defend the Islamic State. There is only 2 possible outcomes for me. Victory or Martyr."
Pugh cropped up on the FBI's radar as early as 2001 as a one-time American Airlines employee purportedly sympathetic to Osama bin Laden, the Al-Qaeda mastermind responsible for the 9/11 attacks on the United States.