'Jihadi' Images, Detonator Video Found
By ELAINE SILVESTRINI,
The Tampa Tribune
Published: September 15, 2007
Youssef Megahed / Ahmed Mohamed
Related: Suspect's Father Speaks http://www2.tbo.com/content/2007/sep/14/mohamed-enjoyed-upscale-cairo-community-life/?news-breaking
Previous Coverage http://www2.tbo.com/static/special_reports/tbo_special_reports_news_usf_students_indicted/
Court Documents http://media.tbo.com/tbo/pdfs/091407mohamedwaiver.pdf
TAMPA - A laptop computer deputies found when they pulled over two University of South Florida students in South Carolina contained a video made by one of the men showing how to use a toy to detonate a bomb remotely, a federal prosecutor said Friday.
On that video, the student, Ahmed Mohamed, said the detonator could 'save one who wants to be a martyr for another day, another battle,' Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Hoffer said.
The prosecutor said that video was posted by Mohamed on YouTube, a popular Web site.
Also on the laptop were 'jihadi' images and footage of rockets used by Hamas, Hoffer said.
Although a judge granted bail for the other student, Youssef Megahed, prosecutors immediately appealed, delaying his release until at least next week. Mohamed waived his right to a bail hearing.
Hoffer disclosed the computer evidence Friday as he laid out the prosecution's case that Megahed should be denied bail because he is a danger to the community and a flight risk.
U.S. Magistrate Elizabeth Jenkins ruled Megahed could be released on $200,000 bail if he meets a number of strict conditions, including what amounts to house arrest. 'I do agree he poses a danger, no question about that, based on what was found in the car,' Jenkins said. She also said the government failed to demonstrate a specific danger to the community, as required by law.
Hoffer acknowledged under questioning from the judge that he had no specific evidence of Megahed's intentions. Hoffer said that under the current charge, Megahed likely faces less than three years in prison if convicted.
A defense attorney maintained his client was not dangerous and that he has strong ties to the community and no record of violence. The federal courtroom was packed with Megahed's family members and friends, and Jenkins said she had received numerous letters in Megahed's support.
Neither the defense nor the prosecution presented sworn testimony during the hearing.
Megahed's public defender, Adam Allen, said there was no evidence his client made or saw the video that prosecutors said Mohamed made.
Both defendants are Egyptian citizens. Megahed is a legal, permanent resident of the Unites States, and Mohamed is here on a student visa.
Hoffer said that when deputies in South Carolina pulled the pair over for speeding on Aug. 4, they saw Megahed, who was the passenger, trying to put away the laptop computer that belonged to Mohamed. When investigators analyzed the computer, they found that the last-viewed images showed Qassam rockets, which are used by Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Also on the computer were videos of discussions of martyrdom and videos showing the firing of M-16 rifles, Hoffer said.
In the trunk, deputies found four small sections of PVC pipe, at least three of which were stuffed with a 'potassium nitrate explosive mixture' of potassium nitrate, Karo syrup and kitty litter, Hoffer said. He said the kitty litter served as a binder to keep the substance from coming out of the pipes, which were not capped.
Investigators also found a container of gasoline, 20 feet of safety fuse and an electric drill, which Hoffer said could be used to drill holes in the pipe so fuses could be attached.
'Obviously, that raised the hackles of law enforcement in South Carolina,' Hoffer said. 'That's why we're here.'
Both men are charged with transporting explosives without a permit, relating to the stuffed PVC pipes deputies have described as pipe bombs. Hoffer conceded in court, however, that the devices, while explosive, were not pipe bombs and were not 'destructive devices' under the law.
Allen maintained that the filled PVC pipes couldn't do much damage because there were no caps and no metallic material that could serve as shrapnel.
Mohamed also is charged with demonstrating how to make explosives with the intent of helping terrorists. That charge evidently refers to the video, which Hoffer said Mohamed admitted making in his home in July using a camcorder. Hoffer said Mohamed posted the video on YouTube under another name. It shows Mohamed from the chest down standing in front of a tabletop and taking apart a radio-controlled toy car and pulling a wire from the remote control.
Speaking later from Cairo, Mohamed's father, Abdel Latif Sherif, said his son is being framed.
'This was created and put on his computer to blame him,' Sherif said. 'I can take a computer and put anything on it. They are making this up to make him look bad.'
Hoffer said that in the video, Mohamed makes a statement about the toy car being similar to a boat. The federal prosecutor noted that when investigators searched the Megahed home with the family's permission, they found a remote-controlled boat.
Megahed's South Carolina attorney has said the boat was a 'therapeutic device' for to the defendant's 10-year-old brother, who has Down syndrome.
Allen argued that the judge could set conditions to ensure Megahed would not flee the district if released on bail. For example, the entire Megahed family agreed to surrender their passports and allow investigators to search their home at any time.
The judge also ordered that Megahed be outfitted with the most secure Global Positioning System monitoring device available to probation officials and that Megahed be permitted to leave his parents' house only to see his attorney or attend religious services.
After Jenkins ruled, prosecutors immediately filed an appeal, meaning Megahed may not be released until U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday decides the issue. That can't happen until at least sometime next week.
Ammunition, No Firearms
Under the passenger seat of the car in South Carolina, deputies found ammunition, said Hoffer, but no firearms.
Hoffer said investigators also searched a commercial storage facility. Inside they found a .22-caliber rifle that Megahed had purchased lawfully. Hoffer said Megahed recently tried to purchase a handgun.
Also in the storage facility were welding supplies and scuba diving equipment. Hoffer said Megahed has skill as a welder, so there could be a legitimate reason for those items.
The prosecutor said that when deputies questioned Megahed, he initially denied knowing about 'these rockets or fireworks in the trunk.' But when both defendants were put in the back seat of a patrol vehicle, their conversation in Arabic secretly was recorded, Hoffer said.
A translation summary of the recording shows Megahed asking about what happened to the explosives, Hoffer said, which the prosecutor said shows Megahed was aware of what was in the trunk. The car, Hoffer said, was registered to Megahed's brother.
During the hearing, Allen said the Megahed family was prepared to post $50,000 cash to secure the defendant's release. Hoffer, however, said the government had information that the family has extensive assets and that $50,000 would not be nearly enough to ensure that Megahed would not flee.
Allen said his client is three credits away from earning a bachelor's degree in engineering. Among the glowing letters submitted to the court on Megahed's behalf was one from a university professor, Allen said. Landlords described the Megaheds as an 'on-time, responsible, polite, law-abiding family.'
He said it wouldn't make sense for the defendant to flee the jurisdiction over a charge for which he faces, at most, 33 months in prison.
Hoffer argued that if Megahed flees to Egypt, it will be 'very difficult, if not impossible' for the United States to have him extradited.
Hoffer said Megahed applied to become a citizen last year but was turned down by immigration officials because he had been out of the country for more than 1,600 days during a five-year period that ended in 2003. During that time, he made numerous trips to Egypt, many lasting more than six months, Hoffer said.
Hoffer said Megahed also traveled to Canada, Saudia Arabia and Nigeria, 'which is also of interest to the United States.'
But the judge seemed unimpressed with Megahed's travel, noting it took place when the defendant was 11 to 16 years old.
After the hearing, Megahed family members wouldn't discuss what was said, other than to say they were happy with Jenkins' ruling.
Smiling, his brother, Yahia, said, 'It confirmed our feeling of the justice system.'
Reporter Thomas W. Krause and Editor Howard Altman contributed to this report. Reporter Elaine Silvestrini can be reached at (813) 259-7839 or firstname.lastname@example.org .