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Two suspended USF students will stand trial separately

TAMPA — Youssef Megahed and Ahmed Mohamed will get separate trials on federal charges stemming from their August arrest in South Carolina, a judge ruled Monday.

Megahed, 22, will go to trial May 5 on charges of illegally transporting explosive materials and a destructive device across state lines.

Mohamed, 26, will face those charges at a trial beginning July 7, along with five additional charges that include accusations of violating his student visa by possessing a firearm, demonstrating how to make an explosive device through a YouTube video and providing material support to terrorists.

Both defendants were in court Monday to plead not guilty to a new seven-count indictment handed up by a grand jury last week. Only two counts, however, relate to Megahed. The new indictment superseded an earlier two-count indictment.

Since shortly after the suspended University of South Florida students were arrested Aug. 4, Megahed's father has called for his son to stand trial alone, saying he did nothing wrong.

"I am happy for this decision," Samir Megahed said outside the courtroom. "I am very happy, because my son is innocent, and everybody in this building will know that my son is innocent."

Adam Allen, Megahed's public defender, has for months sought to have his client tried separately from Mohamed. He worries Megahed could be convicted because of his association with Mohamed, who faces more serious charges.

Linda Moreno and Lyann Goudie, Mohamed's attorneys, declined comment.

Before U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday granted a defense request to sever the cases, Megahed and Mohamed were scheduled to stand trial together next week on the charge of illegally transporting explosive materials. Mohamed was to go to trial May 12 on the charge involving the YouTube video.

In court, Goudie asked for more time to review prosecutors' evidence, including visits by Mohamed to Arabic Web sites.

Goudie also said prosecutors have yet to turn over evidence to support their claims that Mohamed violated his student visa by possessing a firearm. Goudie said she assumes the charges may deal with two trips in July by Mohamed to a Tampa gun range.

Karim Moussaoui, a USF graduate, was convicted earlier this month on a similar charge of violating his student visa during a separate trip to the same range.

Seated in the courtroom for the first time Monday were Mohamed's parents, who live in Cairo, Egypt. They declined to comment after the hearing.

Inside court, Mohamed's mother patted her heart and blew kisses to her son as his father wiped tears from his eyes. Mohamed smiled back at them and nodded.

Kevin Graham can be reached at kgraham@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

Two suspended USF students will stand trial separately 04/21/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 21, 2008 9:38pm]
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