MIAMI —Tension flared Monday as the deportation hearing for Youssef Megahed got under way before an openly skeptical judge at the Krome Detention Center.
The defense and Homeland Security Department attorneys battled over the relevance of government's evidence that focused on Megahed's former co-defendant in a terrorism trial, Ahmed Mohamed.
"How much more evidence do we have to have that's not about this case?" defense attorney Charles Kuck asked the judge.
Tampa FBI Special Agent Frederick Humphries II spent much of the day linking Megahed to Mohamed, both University of South Florida students when they were arrested Aug. 4, 2007, in Goose Creek, S.C., after being pulled over for speeding.
Megahed and Mohamed shared similar interests in Internet searches about Qassam rockets in the Middle East targeting U.S. military vehicles, according to Humphries. Mohamed and someone logged onto the Megahed family computer as "Usef" also searched separately for similar Islamic extremist Web sites, he said.
"In this case, there are a lot of connected dots," Humphries said.
"It looks like we're trying Mohamed," said Immigration Judge Kenneth S. Hurewitz.
The 2007 traffic stop set off a federal investigation that led to Mohamed pleading guilty to a terrorism charge, another USF student being deported and Megahed fighting to remain in this country after his acquittal on federal explosives charges.
This week, the government is intent on proving that Megahed, 23, has participated or will likely engage in terrorist activity and should therefore be deported to his homeland of Egypt.
"I think it's going to be very difficult to prove, but I'm going to allow them to go forward," Hurewitz said of the terrorism allegations, denying a defense motion to dismiss the charges.
Before testimony began, Kuck called on the judge to reject all the government's evidence and have the courage to terminate the case as the first day of proceedings began.
"It's you that has to say, 'Government, you're wrong. This man had nothing to do with terrorism. This man is not removable from the United States.' " Kuck told Hurewitz.
Kuck called the potential evidence misleading, irrelevant and part fantasy.
"Name something, and I'm sure I'll object to it for that reason," Kuck told the judge. Much of the evidence rehashed a federal trial in Tampa where Megahed was acquitted in April of illegal transportation of explosive materials and illegal possession of a destructive device, he said.
Homeland Security attorneys said otherwise. "I've been very clear. I'm not re-litigating the criminal trial," said government attorney Gina Garrett-Jackson.
Kuck called some of the documents garbage. More than once, Garrett-Jackson asked the judge to remind Kuck to remain professional.
"I'm sorry that the government is taking this case so personally, your honor. I thought we were in a court of law," Kuck said, "If the evidence is fantasy, it's fantasy."
Both sides objected to affidavits and transcripts of statements made by people who weren't cross-examined in court.
Kuck pressed the government to make specific allegations of terrorism against Megahed as outlined in the immigration naturalization act.
Garrett-Jackson said the government believes Megahed has committed or incited a terrorist act, prepared or planned terrorist activity, gathered information for potential terrorist targets and committed an act that provides material support to terrorists.
Kuck called the case smoke and mirrors.
"We're not prosecuting a case of guilt by association," Garrett-Jackson said. "We're prosecuting a case of Megahed being an enabler."
Hurewitz told Garrett-Jackson he'd like to hear that testimony.
"You've got tons of evidence that this other guy did all these things," the judge said.
"I just feel like the court is rushing the government through its case," Garrett-Jackson said.
She said repeatedly that she's laying the foundation for the charges against Megahed and asked the judge to keep an open mind as she presents evidence and questions witnesses.
"If the court is going to critique every document before the government presents its case in its entirety, we can end right now and file for an appeal," she said.
Today, the government intends to call two computer experts who will testify about evidence recovered from the Megahed family computer and presumably from Mohamed's laptop.
Testimony is expected to last all week.
Kevin Graham can be reached at (813) 226-3433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.