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USF grad sentenced to six months for posing with rifle

TAMPA — A University of South Florida graduate with ties to Youssef Megahed and Ahmed Mohamed received a six-month federal prison sentence Monday for violating his student visa by posing for a picture with a firearm.

Karim Moussaoui, 28, will receive credit for the three months and 12 days he has already spent behind bars since a jury convicted him on April 2, U.S. District Judge James Whittemore ordered. Moussaoui also must pay a $1,000 fine.

Defense attorney DeeAnn Athan plans to appeal and try to have Moussaoui's conviction overturned. She said jurors should have been able to consider "innocent transitory possession" as a defense.

Surveillance footage captured Moussaoui 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 a photograph of Moussaoui posing with the weapon when they searched Megahed's computer after his Aug. 4 arrest on explosives charges.

Moussaoui testified that he never fired the weapon. But the judge didn't believe that. "You can shake your head all you want," Whittemore told Moussaoui, who visibly disagreed with the judge's comments.

Whittemore said Moussaoui also lied to the FBI when he said he never saw Megahed with the rifle, which was disputed by the surveillance footage.

"We are a country of laws. Everyone in this country must obey those laws, including you as a visitor," the judge told Moussaoui.

Prosecutors used the sentencing to levy new allegations against Moussaoui in an attempt to increase his punishment.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Monk accused Moussaoui of knowing about a video Mohamed posted to YouTube that was intended to show enemies of the United States how to turn a child's toy into a remote control detonator. Monk said Moussaoui described it as a "bad video" to a friend but denied he'd ever seen it when asked by an FBI agent.

Mohamed, who pleaded guilty last month to providing material support to terrorists by creating and posting the video on the Internet, told investigators he may have shown it to Moussaoui but he wasn't certain, prosecutors said.

"I am stunned that Mr. Monk will stand here and make this argument that has nothing to do with Mr. Moussaoui," Athan told the judge, as she asked for a continuance if he intended to consider any of Monk's arguments in sentencing Moussaoui. "We stand here at the final hour, and Mr. Monk drops this bomb on us."

Whittemore told Monk that a sentencing wasn't the place to bring new allegations against a defendant. That should be taken to a grand jury, he said, before telling Athan that he planned to focus on the crime for which Moussaoui had been convicted.

Moussaoui likely faces deportation to his native Morocco after completing his sentence.

In court, Athan asked for a lighter sentence in exchange for Moussaoui's immediate deportation. "He is not going to be walking around the United States again," she said.

The judge declined to delve into immigration issues.

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

USF grad sentenced to six months for posing with rifle 07/14/08 [Last modified: Friday, July 18, 2008 10:59am]

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