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Former USF student Megahed gets turn in court on explosives charges

His August 2007 arrest triggered FBI investigations that led to prison for two friends.

Now, former University of South Florida student Youssef Megahed gets his turn in federal court. His trial begins today in front of U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday.

Megahed, 23, faces charges that he illegally transported explosive materials and possessed an unregistered firearm or a destructive device.

The case against him

Megahed and his friend Ahmed Mohamed, 27, were stopped for speeding on Aug. 4, 2007, near Goose Creek, S.C. A deputy searched their car and found low-grade explosive materials in the trunk. They consisted of pipes stuffed with fertilizer, Karo syrup, kitty litter and fuses.

Megahed has denied knowledge of the trunk's contents. The vehicle stopped belonged to his older brother, Yahia. If convicted, Megahed could get a maximum of 10 years in prison on each count.

The driver

Ahmed Mohamed was behind the wheel when he and Megahed were stopped by the South Carolina sheriff's deputy for speeding. He had alerted the deputy to the materials in the trunk, explaining that they were homemade fireworks or sugar rockets.

Investigators uncovered a video on his laptop that Mohamed uploaded to YouTube, showing how to turn a remote-controlled child's toy into a detonator. Mohamed admitted to creating the video and said he intended it to be used by martyrs fighting "invaders" of Arab countries, including the U.S. military.

He pleaded guilty to providing material support to terrorists, based on the YouTube video. By doing so, Mohamed avoided a potential life sentence if convicted at trial of all the charges he faced. Merryday sentenced him in December to a maximum 15-year federal prison sentence.

A native of Egypt, like Megahed, Mohamed had been in the United States for about six months when he was arrested.

The friend

USF graduate Karim Moussaoui's association with one of the students landed him in prison, when the FBI investigation revealed he had violated his student visa by posing for a picture with a firearm.

Surveillance footage captured Moussaoui, 29, shouldering a Walther G22 rifle inside a gun range on July 19, 2007. He had gone there with Megahed, a legal resident who was not prohibited from having a firearm.

FBI agents recovered the photograph of Moussaoui posing with the weapon when they searched Megahed's home computer after his arrest on explosives charges.

A jury convicted Moussaoui and he was sentenced in July to six months in federal prison. U.S. District Judge James Whittemore also ordered he pay a $1,000 fine.

Events in the case

Aug. 4, 2007: Ahmed Mohamed and Youssef Megahed arrested in Goose Creek, S.C.

Aug. 29, 2007: Both are charged with illegally transporting explosive material. Mohamed is charged with demonstrating how to make explosives. USF suspends them.

April 16, 2008: New indictment adds charges against Megahed and Mohamed, including firearms violations against both men.

May 2: Federal prosecutors appeal U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday's ruling to exclude nine video clips recovered from Megahed's computer, postponing the trial. The clips showed rockets launching in combat zones in the Middle East and explosive devices being used against what appear to be U.S. military vehicles.

May 5: Megahed is freed on bail.

June 13: Mohamed pleads guilty to one count of providing material support to terrorists.

Dec. 18: Mohamed is sentenced to 15 years.

Jan. 21, 2009: A federal appeals panel backs Merryday's decision to exclude the video evidence.

Today: Jury selection begins at 1:30 p.m. in Megahed's trial.

Former USF student Megahed gets turn in court on explosives charges 03/15/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 16, 2009 9:32am]
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