A federal jury on Wednesday found a former United States serviceman guilty of trying to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State, the first such case involving the terrorist group to reach a verdict in a United States courtroom.
The former serviceman, Tairod Pugh, 48, hung his head momentarily after the jury foreman in Federal District Court in Brooklyn announced the guilty verdict on the top charge, trying to support a foreign terrorist organization.
Mr. Pugh is among dozens of people arrested by the authorities over the past two years on charges that they tried to travel to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State or had plotted attacks on behalf of the organization in America. Another man accused of conspiring to support the group, also known as ISIS
or ISIL, is now on trial in Phoenix.
Mr. Pugh, a skilled airplane mechanic from his time in the Air Force about 25 years ago, had been drifting across the Middle East in the year before his arrest in January 2015, finding work at small American airlines that flew in and out of far-flung military bases on Pentagon contracts.
Evidence presented at the trial, which began on Feb. 29, showed that Mr. Pugh had researched border crossings to Syria before boarding a flight to Istanbul, a common jumping-off point for would-be foreign fighters seeking to make their way to Islamic State-controlled territory. But much was left unsaid about how Mr. Pugh, a convert to Islam, had originally fallen under the sway of extremist ideology. By 2014, however, he was watching slickly produced Islamic State propaganda and defending the group on Facebook and in conversations with co-workers.
Shortly before his arrest, Mr. Pugh had even drafted a letter to his wife in Egypt, promising to bring her along to paradise after he died a martyr. In the letter, he pledged to “use the talents and skills given to me by Allah to establish and defend the Islamic State.” But he did not appear to have actually sent the letter, giving his lawyers an opening to argue that though Mr. Pugh was an ardent ideological supporter of the Islamic State, any thoughts he harbored of joining the group were fantasies.
The jury rejected that defense, convicting Mr. Pugh of crimes that carry a potential 35-year sentence. In addition to the terrorism-related charge, he was also found guilty of obstruction of an official proceeding, for destroying several flash drives that the government claimed contained evidence against him.