TAMPA — Ahmed Mohamed slouched in his chair in a federal courtroom, wearing his orange prison garb inside-out, his feet shackled. A translator sat by his side, at the ready.
As U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Pizzo read Mohamed's charge of providing material support to terrorists, the former University of South Florida engineering student subtly nodded his head. Then he leaned forward to his microphone. "I plead guilty," he said.
The plea Wednesday brought an anticlimactic end to the high-profile case against Mohamed, who agreed last week to forgo his impending trial and enter a guilty plea. In return, prosecutors will drop six other charges against him when he is sentenced in about three months.
Mohamed, 26, showed no emotion as he answered pro forma questions from Pizzo, who recommended at the end of the brief hearing that his guilty plea be accepted.
Afterward, one of his attorneys, Linda Moreno, said Mohamed spent long hours considering the possible life sentence he faced if convicted at trial.
"This was the result of a very arduous and long decision for Mr. Mohamed and his family," she said. "As his lawyers, we sought to minimize his risk … and this plea does accomplish that."
An Egyptian national, Mohamed was arrested Aug. 4, along with fellow USF student Youssef Megahed, 22, in Goose Creek, S.C. A deputy stopped their car for speeding, then discovered in its trunk what prosecutors alleged were low-grade explosives.
But it was a laptop found in the car that provided prosecutors with the basis for their charge of supporting terrorists.
On the computer, prosecutors said, they found a video Mohamed was said to have posted to YouTube in an effort to aid attempts by terrorists to murder employees of the United States, including military personnel. The video showed how a remote-controlled car could be turned into a bomb detonator.
Mohamed, who is Muslim, according to his father, now faces a maximum of 15 years in prison. Notably, his plea agreement does not require him to testify against Megahed, who is scheduled to have a separate trial.
Thomas Kaplan can be reached at (813) 226-3404 or [email protected]