War on Terrorism

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Air Force Veteran Sentenced to 35 Years in Prison for Attempting to Join ISIS and Obstruction of Justice



Today, Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh, a U.S. citizen and former member of the U.S. Air Force, was sentenced to 35 years in prison for attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a designated foreign terrorist organization, and obstruction of justice. Pugh, of Neptune, New Jersey, was convicted at trial on March 9, 2016.

The sentence was announced by Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Dana Boente; Acting U.S. Attorney Bridget M. Rohde for the Eastern District of New York; Assistant Director in Charge William J. Sweeney of the FBI’s New York Field Office; Commissioner James P. O'Neill of the NYPD. The sentence was imposed by U.S. District Court Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis.

“With this sentence, Tairod Pugh – an American citizen and former member of the U.S. Air Force where he served as an aircraft mechanic – is being held accountable for attempting to travel to Syria to provide material support to ISIS,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Boente. “We are committed to bringing to justice all those who seek to provide material support to foreign terrorist organizations. I would like to thank all of the agents, analysts, and prosecutors who are responsible for this result.”

“The defendant turned his back on his country, and the military he once served, to attempt to join a brutally violent terrorist organization committed to the slaughter of innocent people throughout the world and the destruction of our way of life. Today’s sentence sends a powerful message that those who support terrorist groups and seek to obstruct the efforts of our law enforcement community will be brought to justice,” stated Acting U.S. Attorney Rohde. Ms. Rohde expressed her appreciation to the members of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, which comprises federal, state and local agencies from across the region, for their work on the investigation.

“The alarming reality of this case is that Pugh served in the U.S. military but ultimately traded in his pledge to defend the United States to defend the Islamic State,” stated Assistant Director in Charge Sweeney. “Today’s sentencing should send a strong message to those who seek to support terrorists groups — they will face serious consequences for their actions. The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force will continue to work with our partners, both here and abroad, to prevent acts of terrorism. This investigation demonstrates the importance of law enforcement coordination and collaboration here and around the world.”

“The defendant broke his oath to defend our nation and instead made repeated attempts to join ISIL on the battlefield of Syria,” stated Commissioner O’Neill. “The work of protecting New York City from those who seek to harm us is ever present. I am thankful for the work of so many whose diligence helps keep this city safe.”

Before traveling overseas to try to join ISIS, the defendant served in the U.S. Air Force as an avionics instrument system specialist and received training in the installation and maintenance of aircraft engines, navigation, and weapons systems. The defendant later worked as an airplane mechanic for numerous companies in the U.S. and Middle East. He lived abroad for more than one year before his arrest in this case.

On Jan. 10, 2015, the defendant traveled from Egypt to Turkey in an effort to cross the border into Syria to join ISIS to engage in violent jihad. Turkish authorities denied the defendant entry and returned him to Egypt. At the time of his detention, the defendant was carrying a laptop computer and four USB drives that he had stripped of their plastic casings in an effort to destroy their contents and thereby make them unavailable to investigators. The defendant was also carrying solar powered chargers, compasses, a black balaclava, and clothing suitable for war-torn Syria. Foreign government officials quickly deported the defendant to the U.S., where the FBI closely monitored him, relying in part on a covert undercover employee who encountered the defendant at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. The defendant was arrested on Jan. 16, 2015, in Asbury Park, New Jersey, and thereafter indicted in the Eastern District of New York.

The defendant’s laptop contained Internet searches for “borders controlled by Islamic state,” the ISIS propaganda video “Flames of War,” as well as terrorist videos he had downloaded, including ISIS execution videos. In the months before he attempted to join ISIS, the defendant made statements to coworkers and on social media establishing his support for ISIS, including advising Facebook followers to “support [ISIS] with your bodies.”

Shortly before he left Egypt for Turkey on his way to Syria, the defendant drafted a letter proclaiming, “I am a Mujahid. I am a sword against the oppressor and a shield for the oppressed. 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.”

The government’s case is being handled by the Office’s National Security & Cybercrime Section. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Samuel P. Nitze, Tiana A. Demas and Mark Bini are in charge of the prosecution, with assistance from Trial Attorney Larry Schneider of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Ohio Man Charged With Attempting to Provide Material Support to ISIS



A federal grand jury returned an indictment today charging Laith Waleed Alebbini, 26, of Dayton, Ohio, with one count of attempting to provide material support and resources to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a designated foreign terrorist organization. Alebbini allegedly attempted to provide support in the form of personnel, namely himself, to ISIS.

Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Dana Boente, U.S. Attorney Benjamin C. Glassman for the Southern District of Ohio, Special Agent in Charge Angela L. Byers of the FBI’s Cincinnati Division and other members of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) announced the indictment.

Alebbini was arrested on April 26 at the Cincinnati/Kentucky International Airport and charged with the same crime by criminal complaint. He has remained in custody since his arrest. A citizen of Jordan, Alebbini is a legal permanent resident of the U.S.

Attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes. If convicted of any offense, the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. An indictment merely contains allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law.

The JTTF includes officers and agents from the Cincinnati Police Department, Colerain Police Department, Dayton Police Department, Ohio State Highway Patrol, University of Cincinnati Police Department, U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations, FBI, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Greene County Sheriff’s Office, Oakwood Police Department, West Chester Police Department and Cincinnati State Police Department.

U.S. Attorney Glassman commended the investigation of this case by the JTTF, as well as First Assistant Vipal J. Patel, Assistant U.S. Attorney Dominick S. Gerace and Trial Attorney Justin Sher of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section, who are prosecuting the case.

Friday, May 05, 2017

New Jersey Man Charged With Attempting to Provide Material Support to ISIS



Gregory Lepsky, 20, of Point Pleasant, New Jersey, will appear in federal court today to face allegations that he planned to construct and use a pressure cooker bomb in support of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a designated foreign terrorist organization. Lepsky is charged by criminal complaint with one count of attempting to provide material support to ISIS.

The announcement was made by Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Dana Boente and Acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick for the District of New Jersey. Lepsky is expected to make his initial appearance this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Leda Dunn Wettre in Newark, New Jersey federal court.

According to the complaint:

On February 21, Lepsky was arrested by the Point Pleasant Police Department in connection with an incident that occurred that day in his family’s home. Following the arrest, law enforcement officers searched the residence and found a new pressure cooker stored behind a roll of bubble wrap in Lepsky’s bedroom closet.

During searches of computers and other digital evidence linked to Lepsky, law enforcement found evidence of Lepsky’s plan to build and detonate a bomb as part of his support for ISIS. During several social media communications, Lepsky told others that he intended to fight on behalf of ISIS, and that he would, if necessary, become a martyr by driving a “bunch of explosives” to where the “enemies” could be found and blowing himself up.



Law enforcement also located a series of instructions that had been published online by another terrorist group that gave specific, step-by-step instructions on how to build a pressure cooker bomb, which coincided with the delivery to Lepsky of the pressure cooker a short time before his arrest. In addition, law enforcement recovered a message forwarded by Lepsky from another ISIS supporter stating that if a westerner could not travel to Syria to fight for ISIS, he could conduct a terrorist attack in his home country using improvised explosive devices.



The material support charge carries a maximum potential penalty of up to 20 years in prison and $250,000 fine, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes. If convicted of any offense, the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Acting U.S. Attorney Fitzpatrick credited special agents with the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Timothy Gallagher in Newark; the New Jersey State Attorney General’s Office under the direction of Attorney General Christopher Porrino; the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, under the direction of Prosecutor Joseph Coronato; the Point Pleasant Police Department under the direction of Chief Richard P. Larsen; and the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness under the direction of Director Chris Rodriguez, with the investigation leading to the charges.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney James Donnelly of the U.S. Attorney’s Office National Security Unit in Newark and Trial Attorneys Justin Sher and B. Celeste Corlett of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.