Indicted USF Student has Terror Past in Egypt

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.

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