MIAMI — Former University of South Florida student Youssef Megahed still poses a threat to the United States, an FBI agent said Tuesday during a deportation hearing.
While Megahed was acquitted in April of transporting and possessing explosives, FBI Special Agent Frederick Humphries II told an immigration judge that he still considers Megahed to be dangerous.
Initially asked by a defense attorney what he thought Megahed would do if released, Humphries said: "I don't have a Ouija board or a crystal ball to determine what he would do."
But when pressed later by a government attorney, Humphries said the investigation's evidence led him to conclude that Megahed remains a threat.
Federal prosecutors once considered charging Megahed and two other men with conspiracy to commit terrorism, Humphries said.
But the Justice Department decided the burden of proof was too high to sustain the charge against Megahed, Ahmed Mohamed and a third man, said Humphries, supervisor of the Joint Terrorism Task Force for the FBI's Tampa Division.
Mohamed is in prison after pleading guilty to providing material support to terrorists.
"We felt that Mr. Megahed was willingly providing assistance to Mr. Mohamed, who is a self-professed terrorist," Humphries said.
The third person investigated was Ahmad Ishtay, a friend of Megahed's and Mohamed's. Ishtay and Mohamed had been cited by police for using a pellet gun to shoot squirrels in a Tampa park.
Humphries said the FBI believed Megahed was using his legal permanent resident status to buy guns and ammunition and obtain a gun range membership. Investigators recovered footage from a camcorder in Ishtay's Temple Terrace bedroom that showed tightly focused shots of the Florida Aquarium, pillars along the Howard Frankland Bridge and airliners approaching Tampa International Airport, Humphries said. He likened the recordings to footage typically shot by terrorists who are scouting locations.
Megahed and Mohamed spent time researching terrorist activity and Qassam rockets, Humphries said.
The FBI pushed "vigorously" for an indictment against Ishtay, he added. Ishtay was never charged with a crime and has since left the country.
Megahed and Mohamed were charged with illegal transportation of explosive materials and possession of a destructive device after a traffic stop in Goose Creek, S.C., on Aug. 4, 2007. Authorities found PVC pipes filled with potassium nitrate and a fuse, which Mohamed called homemade sugar rockets.
Mohamed later pleaded guilty to providing material support to terrorists. The FBI uncovered a YouTube video on his laptop that he posted online, demonstrating how to turn a child's remote-control car into a detonator.
Megahed, 23, was acquitted of the transportation and possession charge.
Despite that, Humphries said he has ruled out the possibility that Megahed is innocent. He called the PVC pipes "baby Qassam rockets" and said he had a concern that Mohamed might begin building larger rockets.
The government is trying to prove that Megahed has or will likely engage in terrorist activity and should therefore be deported to Egypt.
"If there's any fantasy, it's that Mr. Megahed Forrest Gumped his way through Mohamed's road trip," Humphries said.
Immigration Judge Kenneth Hurewitz called it "the most significant part" that federal prosecutors never indicted Megahed on a terrorism conspiracy charge.
At the start of Tuesday's hearing, Hurewitz lashed out at the Homeland Security attorneys for continuing to focus on Mohamed. The judge said he hadn't seen any evidence that Mohamed shared his extreme views — which the government has often called anti-American — with Megahed.
"Because you keep blocking me from letting in any evidence," government attorney Gina Garrett-Jackson told the judge.
Defense attorney Charles Kuck repeatedly renewed his objection to all the government's evidence. He asked the judge to "stop this farce" or rule on the admissibility of the government's documents and Humphries' testimony.
"I'm going to decide if it's relevant by hearing it," Hurewitz said.