Documents point to S.C. terror plot

Explosives materials in car


(Columbia) The State

 In a 12-minute video posted on YouTube, an Egyptian man wearing a white shirt, khaki pants and rubber gloves explains in Arabic how to turn a toy boat into a bomb.

His name is Ahmed Abdellatif Sherif Mohamed, and last month he was arrested in Goose Creek after authorities found four PVC pipes containing a mixture of potassium nitrate, kitty litter and sugar in his car’s trunk.

Mohamed told FBI agents he made the video to teach “those persons in Arabic countries to defend themselves against the infidels invading their countries,” according to federal court documents released late Tuesday.

Specifically, he told the FBI “the technology which he demonstrated in the tape was to be used against those who fought for the United States.”

What started as a traffic stop for speeding in South Carolina has led to a two-count federal indictment on terrorism-related charges and a multistate mystery investigators still are working to unravel.

SLED Chief Robert Stewart, the state’s homeland security director, said his agency was notified “almost immediately” after the traffic stop.

“This one got very public very fast because of the nature of the incident and the fact that streets were blocked off,” Stewart said. “There’s nothing currently in South Carolina that citizens need to be alarmed about.”

Stewart said he could not comment further on the investigation. Efforts to reach the U.S. attorney’s office in Tampa; Mohamed’s attorney, Lionel Lofton; and Adam Allen, the attorney for Mohamed’s co-defendant, Youssef Samir Megahed; were unsuccessful Wednesday.

Mohamed and Megahed, a 21-year-old University of South Florida engineering student, were stopped for speeding Aug. 4on S.C. 176 in Goose Creek.

They told deputies they were traveling to North Carolina for a vacation.Berkeley County sheriff’s deputies saw one of the men disconnect some wires from a laptop computer and became suspicious.

In the back of the patrol car on the way to jail on charges of possession of an explosive device, the two whispered in their native Arabic while a hidden recorder taped their conversation, according to court documents:

“Did you tell them there is something in them?” Mohamed asked, an apparent reference to the PVC pipes.

“Water,” Megahed said.

“Water! Right? The black water is in the Pepsi.”

A few seconds pass in silence. Mohamed speaks again.

“Did you tell them about the benzene (gasoline)?”

“I have nothing to do with it. I do the fireworks and so... so... so... that is it.”

But the pipes weren’t fireworks.

An examination by the FBI’s explosives unit found the materials in the PVC pipes fit the legal definition of an “explosive.”

After examining Mohamed’s laptop computer, which was in the 2000 Toyota Camry that was stopped in Goose Creek, agents found an electronic folder titled “Bomb Shock.” The folder contained several computer files about explosives, including TNT and C-4, a military-grade plastic explosive.

They also found the 12-minute video on the laptop. Someone had uploaded the video onto YouTube, a video-sharing Web site. It could be found on YouTube by entering a complicated 14-word search term, which included the words “martyrdooms” and “suiciders.”

Two days after the traffic stop, FBI agents found a remote-controlled toy boat, still in its box, and a partially dismantled digital watch in Megahed’s Tampa, Fla., home, where he lived with his parents. Authorities said in court documents they believe the two items were the beginnings of a homemade bomb.

On Aug. 29, Mohamed and Megahed were indicted by a federal grand jury in Tampa on charges of transporting explosive materials. Mohamed also was charged with teaching and demonstrating the making and use of an explosive and destructive device. About a week later, the state charges against them in South Carolina were dropped.

The charge against Mohamed, involving teaching others how to make and use an explosive device, has been interpreted as a violation of federal law that prohibits giving support to terrorist organizations.

However, prosecutors have filed no documents in federal court that connect either man with any terrorist group.

Mohamed is in jail. He asked a judge to delay a hearing that could have set a bail amount, a typical tactic by defense attorneys who represent clients in high-publicity cases.

Megahed’s plight is more complex. He tried to hire a private attorney but couldn’t afford one, and is now represented by a federal public defender.

Megahed had his day in court Sept. 14. The government told a judge Megahed was a danger to the community because he was a passenger in a car that contained a small amount of explosives.

Prosecutors also argued that if released, Megahed could flee to his native Egypt. They said he had lived in the United States for 10 years and his application to become a naturalized citizen was denied because he had traveled out of the country too many times.

Megahed has two Egyptian passports, one of which is under a different last name. Prosecutors said it would be difficult to bring Megahed back from Egypt if he were to go there because his family has “substantial assets.”

Megahed’s lawyers told the judge he traveled out of the country with his parents when he was younger than 15. They said his two passports were because one, with the additional last name, had expired.

The name was a family name the family was no longer using, according to court documents filed by Adam Allen, Megahed’s attorney.

“The government was forced to concede that, other than speculation they were unwilling to offer, the government had no evidence that the ‘low grade’ explosive materials were possessed in connection with some other unlawful purpose,” Allen wrote in court documents.

The judge agreed with Megahed. He ordered that Megahed be released on $200,000 bail and that Megahed and his family surrender their passports. Megahed also was to be on house arrest with GPS monitoring. He remains in jail in Tampa while federal prosecutors appeal that ruling.

“The history and circumstances of the defendant,” prosecutors wrote in their appeal, “... clearly demonstrate that the defendant... represents both a danger to others and to the community as well as a significant risk of not appearing before this court as directed.”

U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday has not ruled on the government’s appeal.

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