US Air Force veteran convicted of attempting to join Islamic State

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U.S. Veteran Pleads not Guilty to Trying to Help Islamic State

NEW YORK, March 9 (Reuters) - Tairod Pugh, a U.S. Air Force veteran, was found guilty on Wednesday of attempting to join Islamic State, according to his lawyer.

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The conviction marks the first case in more than 75 Islamic State-related prosecutions brought since 2014 by the U.S. Department of Justice to reach a jury verdict.

After a week-long trial in Brooklyn federal court, a jury found Pugh, 48, guilty of attempting to provide material support to a designated terrorist organization, and obstruction for destroying four portable electronic storage devices after his detention in Turkey.

"Of course, we are disappointed with the verdict as we put in great effort to defend the case, but the jury appeared to be fair and genuinely concerned about reaching the correct verdict as they saw it," Pugh's lawyer Eric Creizman said.

See photos of more people who have attempted to join Islamic State:

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People accused of trying to join ISIS/recruited by ISIS
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US Air Force veteran convicted of attempting to join Islamic State
ANKARA, TURKEY - MARCH 17: A passport photo alleged to belong to 22-years-old British woman Jalila Henry and to have been used by her twin sister Jamila Henry (known and named by Turkish officials as Jaila Nadra H) as she tried to travel through Turkey to Syria to join Daesh (Islamic State of Iraq and Levant) terrorists. Jaila Nadra H was detained after an operation staged by the Turkey's Ankara Province Police Anti-terrorism department in the city's bus terminal in Ankara, Turkey on March 17, 2015. (Photo by Turkish National Police/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Renu Begum, eldest sister of Shamima Begum, 15, holds her sister's photo as she is interviewed by the media at New Scotland Yard, as the relatives of three missing schoolgirls believed to have fled to Syria to join Islamic State have pleaded for them to return home, on February 22, 2015 in London, England. Police are urgently trying to trace Shamima Begum, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and 15-year-old Amira Abase after they flew to Istanbul in Turkey from Gatwick Airport on Tuesday. (Photo by Laura Lean - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
ANKARA, TURKEY - MARCH 17: A 22-years-old British woman, Jamila Henry (known and named by Turkish officials as Jaila Nadra H) who is alleged to have tried to travel through Turkey to Syria to join Daesh (Islamic State of Iraq and Levant) terrorists, who has been detained after an operation staged by the Turkey's Ankara Province Police Anti-terrorism department in the city's bus terminal in Ankara, Turkey on March 17, 2015. (Photo by Turkish National Police/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Handout still taken from CCTV issued by the Metropolitan Police of (left to right) 15-year-old Amira Abase, Kadiza Sultana,16 and Shamima Begum,15 at Gatwick airport, before they caught their flight to Turkey. Metropolitan Police officers are in Turkey as the search continues for three missing schoolgirls believed to have fled to Syria to join Islamic State.
Fighters from the Iraqi Imam Ali Brigade, take part in a training exercise in Iraq's central city of Najaf on March 7, 2015, ahead of joining the military operation in the city of Tikrit. Some 30,000 Iraqi security forces members and allied fighters launched an operation to retake Tikrit at the beginning of March, the largest of its kind since Islamic State (IS) group forces overran swathes of territory last June. AFP PHOTO / HAIDAR HAMDANI (Photo credit should read HAIDAR HAMDANI/AFP/Getty Images)
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Pugh will be sentenced in September, Creizman said.

Prosecutors said Pugh immersed himself in violent Islamic State propaganda for months before buying a one-way flight from his home in Egypt to Turkey, where he hoped to cross the Syrian border into territory controlled by the extremist group.

He was detained by Turkish authorities at an Istanbul airport and eventually flown to the United States to face terrorism charges.

Pugh's defense lawyers argued that his only offense was to express "repugnant" views about Islamic State in Facebook posts and to watch dozens of the group's slickly produced recruitment videos. They said he traveled to Turkey to find work, not to become a jihadist.

But prosecutors pointed to a letter he drafted to his Egyptian wife, found on his laptop, in which he vowed to fight for Islam and declared he had two options: "Victory or Martyr." The letter was written days before he flew to Turkey, though it was unclear whether he ever sent it.

He also took with him to Istanbul a black facemask, a map depicting Islamic State's strongholds in Syria and a chart of the border crossings between Turkey and Syria.

Only one other Islamic State-related U.S. prosecution has reached trial. In Phoenix, Abdul Malik Abdul Kareem is on trial for plotting with others to attack a Prophet Mohammed cartoon contest in Texas. Two of his alleged associates were killed in a shootout with police at the event.

Pugh served as an avionics specialist in the Air Force from 1986 to 1990 and later worked as an Army contractor in Iraq from 2009 to 2010, prosecutors said.

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