Indicted USF Student has Terror Past in Egypt - update*
August 31, 2007
Update: Sept. 5, 2007, 12:00 p.m.
While the affidavit remains sealed, the warrant used by the FBI last month to search the home of one of the accused USF explosives suspects shows agents were after recorded evidence about making explosives and possible bomb components.
Agents went into the single family home on Pampas Place outside Tampa on Aug. 11 looking for video cameras, tapes, dvds or other recordings "relating to bombs, explosive devices, destructive devices and detonators." They also sought screwdrivers, soldering irons, timers and digital watches and pellets for pellet guns.
Then there's this: "Remote control devices for toys." As reported below, Ahmed Mohamed is said to have produced a video showing how to build a remote-controlled bomb.
The search warrant return, an index of items seized, shows agents took "passport photos, biohazard cassette, disassembled watch" a circuit board and a variety of chemicals and powders.
Youssef Megahed and Mohamed, both engineering students from Egypt, were arrested Aug. 4 in South Carolina after being stopped for speeding. Police were suspicious of the men after one quickly closed a laptop computer he had open. A search of their car turned up explosive-making material that the men claimed were fireworks.
Two Egyptian students enrolled at the University of South Florida have been indicted for carrying explosive materials across states lines. One of the defendants also is charged with teaching the other how to use them for violent reasons.
Ahmed Abdellatif Sherif Mohamed, 24, an engineering graduate student and teaching assistant at the Tampa-based university, faces terrorism charges for teaching and demonstrating how to use the explosives.
According to officials familiar with the case, Mohamed has been arrested previously in Egypt on terrorism-related charges. He is said to have produced an Internet video showing how to build a remote-controlled car bomb.
Mohamed and Youssef Samir Megahed, 21, also an engineering student, were stopped for speeding Aug. 4 in Goose Creek, S.C., where they have been held on state charges. Police found pipe bombs in their car near a Navy base in South Carolina where enemy combatants have been held. They have been held in a South Carolina jail while the FBI continued to investigate whether there was a terrorism link.
The men reportedly made police officer suspicious during a traffic stop when one of them tried to quickly put away a laptop computer. The computer was seized.
Mohamed faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted on the count of demonstrating how to make and use an explosive device. He and Megahed both face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of transporting explosives across state lines without permits.
Their defense attorney, Andy Savage, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
In South Carolina, where Mohamed and Megahed have been held in the Berkeley County jail, U.S. Attorney Reginald I. Lloyd praised state and federal authorities for cooperating in the four-week investigation that initially did not look like a terrorism case.
"The arresting deputy's vigilance and the immediate response of our local investigators and prosecutors are highly commendable," Lloyd said in a statement.
Since the Aug. 4 arrest, authorities sought to determine whether Mohamed and Megahed were fledgling terrorists or merely college students headed to the beach with devices made from fireworks they bought at Wal-Mart in their car, as they claimed. The local sheriff in South Carolina said the explosives were "other than fireworks."
The charges follow several searches in Tampa, including of a storage facility and a park where the explosives might have been tested, authorities said.
Both Mohamed and Megahed are in the country legally on student visas, officials said.
Mohamed had rented a room in a house in Temple Terrace, a suburb of Tampa, which was used as the office for the World and Islam Studies Enterprise (WISE), a think-tank founded by former USF Professor Sami Al-Arian. WISE rented the same home on Pampas Place during the early 1990s.
Al-Arian then lied to local code enforcement officials after neighbors complained about the traffic in and out of the house. It was against city codes to run a business in the residential neighborhood. Al-Arian denied the home was an office, city records show.
In 2006, Al-Arian pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to make or receive contributions of funds, goods or services to or for the benefit of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). Evidence presented at his trial showed Al-Arian served on the PIJ governing board.
A grand jury in Tampa heard Wednesday from the home's owner, Noor Salhab, and Salhab's son. In addition, Ahmed Bedier, spokesman for the Tampa chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), testified under subpoena. He told reporters that he was asked questions similar to what he would get at a press conference.
Bedier has acted as a family spokesman for the Megahed family. Initially, he criticized the investigation for what he termed "the lack of evidence."
"They brought in the bomb squad and detonated the evidence they had. That was premature to charge somebody and rush to judgment without evidence."
In addition, he told the Tampa Tribune that the men were being scrutinized due to their ethnicity.
"Obviously their heritage and background is playing a major role in blowing this out of proportion," Bedier said. "If these were some good old boys, I doubt this [story] would be played around the world."
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
Reader comments on this item
Real Explosives, Not Fireworks
Aug 10, 2011 19:43
I saw a presentation recently by the deputy who initiated the traffic stop. There is no question that the explosives in the trunk were the real deal. Some had already been made into rockets similar to ones used by insurgents in Iraq. They were weapons, not fireworks. Mohamed pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 15 years. The other suspect was found not guilty.
Submitted by Matt W., Nov 8, 2010 14:14
It seems to me that the police should not have blown up the only evidence of what the maybe-fireworks were. That said, I would try to avoid speeding near a military base in South Carolina while carrying homemade model rocket engines (http://www.jamesyawn.com/rcandy/index.htm), especially if I were "suspiciously brown" or Muslim.
WE Need Balance
Submitted by Becky, Dec 21, 2008 01:35
I am a graduate student. When I first heard about this case last year, I became concerned that ethnicity and the nature of the charges might lead to a guilty verdict before the evidence was carefully examined. After the horrific September 11th attacks, many Arabs were unjustly attacked and many felt threatened. I'm sure it is very difficult to determine who are inocent and who wish to harm us! After Pearl Harbor, Japanese individuals were unfairly detained until the conclusion of World War II. Our troops commonly experience the fear of not readily knowing who the enemy is while serving our country in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, we can't stop us from securing the nation! Carrying explosives across state lines is suspicious, and I feel that ethnicity is irrelevant, and we are all accountable for our actions. Posting videos on how to create bombs on the Internet is outright dangerous and some might argue that these actions might provoke others to act on what they've seen online so one person's video on creating explosives is an international security threat given how rapidly information can be dessiminated ! I sincerely hope that the US and other countries can try cases solely on the evidence presented! We can't unjustly accuse someone of a crime without conclusive evidence, but we must reinforce the belief that all citizens and visitors, regardless of ethnicity, are accountable for their actions and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law if their actions threaten others! I hope that the conversation will shift to how we can reduce the prevalence of terrorism, unjust stereotyping, and hatred while upholding and recognizing basic rights that are embedded in our Constitution, in UN documents, and in various treaties! I feel that how we treat our enemies and suspected criminals is just as important as military and policy decisions!