USF student Youssef Megahed 'may have been part of a terrorist cell'
August 19, 2009
FBI agent: Megahed may have belonged to terrorist cell
the Tampa Tribune
August 18, 2009
Updated: 07:08 pm
Frederick Humphries said the former University of South Florida student used his status as a legal permanent resident to acquire firearms for his friend Ahmed Mohamed, later convicted of helping terrorists.
"It appeared this was a cell, a group of individuals who had come together," Humphries testified. "It was very similar to other groups who are conducting preoperational activities.
"We felt that Mr. Megahed was willingly providing assistance to Mr. Mohamed, an individual we now know is a self-professed terrorist," he said.
Humphries was the first witness for the government, which contends Megahed is "likely to engage in terrorist activity" and should be deported.
But Megahed's attorney says none of the government's evidence ties his client to terrorism.
And as the hearing opened Monday, federal immigration Judge Kenneth Hurewitz said he thinks "it's going to be very difficult" for the government to prove its case. The judge noted that the government had provided overwhelming evidence designed to prove Mohamed was a terrorist but had not linked Megahed to terrorist activity.
Megahed and Mohamed were arrested in August 2007 after being pulled over for speeding near Goose Creek, S.C. Deputies said they found pipe bombs in the trunk of the car; the FBI determined the items were PVC pipes stuffed with a "low explosives" mixture of potassium nitrate and sugar.
Mohamed, also a former USF student, pleaded guilty to helping terrorists by posting on YouTube a video in which he shows how to detonate a bomb with a remote-controlled toy. He was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison. There was no evidence that Megahed participated in making the video or that he ever saw it.
In April, a federal jury in Tampa found Megahed not guilty of charges of illegally transporting explosives and possession of a destructive device.
But three days after his acquittal, Megahed was detained by immigration agents. He has been held in an immigration-detention facility in Glades County ever since.
Humphries testified that the arrest of Megahed and Mohamed in South Carolina was "the detection and disruption of an event before it happened."
Asked by the judge if it was likely Megahed will engage in terrorist activity if he is released, Humphries said, "I don't have an opinion."
Later, government attorney Gina Garrett-Jackson asked Humphries, "Is it your opinion that Megahed poses a threat to the United States of America?"
"Yes," Humphries responded, "based on all of those things I explained in my previous testimony."
The government maintains it need only prove that there are grounds for a reasonable belief that Megahed is involved in or likely to engage in terrorist activity.
Asked if there were such grounds, Humphries said, "Yes, based on all the actions I described in the previous, how many hours of testimony…because of his willingness to go along with a self-professed and now convicted terrorist."
He also testified about Ahmed Ishtay, an associate of Megahed and Mohamed.
Humphries said the FBI found video recordings in Ishtay's belongings that appeared to be surveillance of the Howard Frankland Bridge, Tampa International Airport and the Florida Aquarium.
He said the recordings were similar to those made by terrorist groups in preparation for attacks.
Ishtay, a citizen of Israel and the United States, hasn't been charged. He no longer is in the United States.
Humphries said he and others in the FBI vigorously argued that Megahed, Mohamed and Ishtay should be charged with conspiracy. But Justice Department lawyers didn't believe there was enough evidence to meet the burden of proof in criminal court, he said.
Humphries also identified another person he said was involved in the group, Karim Massaoui, a former University of South Florida student from Morocco who was later convicted of a weapons offense for holding a gun at a firing range in violation of his student visa and has since been deported.
Megahed's lawyer, Charles Kuck, challenged Humphries' assertion that Megahed still poses a threat.
"Even though Massaoui's gone?" Kuck asked.
"Who's the next Massoui who's going to come along?" Humphries responded. "Where's the next Ahmed Sherif Mohamed that's going to come along?"
As Humphries discussed the U.S. attorney's reasons for not pursuing conspiracy charges, Hurewitz interjected, "Because he didn't have any proof."
"Bingo!" Kuck exclaimed.
Garrett-Jackson objected, saying Humphries didn't testify that there wasn't any proof.
Confronting Humphries over Megahed's alleged involvement with Mohamed's activities, Kuck said, "You have ruled it out that he didn't agree with him and is innocent of the charges in this case?"
"I have," Humphries replied.
The government is expected to wrap up its case Wednesday, after which the defense is scheduled to begin presenting evidence.
The trial is expected to continue through this week.
Tribune file photo by JULIE BUSCH (2009)
FBI agents say Youssef Megahed may have been part of a terrorist cell. In April, a federal jury found Megahed not guilty of charges of illegally transporting explosives and possession of a destructive device.