Since two USF students were found with explosives in their car more than a month ago, supporters of the pair have pleaded with the public to wait for the evidence before jumping to conclusions.
A window into that evidence, held close to the vest of prosecutors since the arrest of students Youssef Megahed and Ahmed Mohamed in early August, was opened Friday.
Evidence listed by a prosecutor from the U.S. Attorney’s Office included pieces of PVC pipe cut and filled with an explosive mixture of fertilizer, corn syrup and kitty litter; fuses, bullets and gasoline; a 12-minute video with instructions for turning a remote-controlled car into a bomb; laptop views of Web sites and Internet videos about religious martyrdom, M-16 rifles and rockets used by the Palestinian militant organization Hamas; a .22-caliber rifle found in a storage shed kept by Megahed.
Asking that a judge deny bond for Megahed on the grounds that he posed a danger to the community and a flight risk, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Hoffer ran through the government’s evidence against the student in a 45-minute presentation before a courtroom full of Megahed’s friends and family Friday.
Hoffer said the government could show Megahed knew of the explosive materials with audio tapes of Mohamed and Megahed discussing the contents of the trunk.
But his failure to show hard evidence of Megahed’s intent to use the explosives for something sinister proved a chink in the case to deny bond.
U.S. Magistrate Elizabeth Jenkins set bond for Megahed at $200,000, provided he remain under house arrest unless attending church services or meeting with his
“What’s the motive, why did he have those materials in the back seat – I haven’t heard anything about that,” Jenkins said.
Prosecutors did not divulge their entire case against the other USF student, Mohammed, who waived his right to a bail hearing and was not in court Friday.
But they gave glimpses into some of the evidence against him as they tried to connect it to Megahed Friday.
Mohamed has confirmed making a 12-minute video with instructions on turning a remote-controlled car into a detonator device for an explosive, said Hoffer, who added the video was uploaded through Mohamed’s laptop from an e-mail address linked to him.
The video, up for a period of time on YouTube before site censors removed it, did not show Mohamed’s face, Hoffer said.
In the video, a man speaking Arabic says it’s meant “to save one who wants to be a martyr for another day.”
The man also alludes to a previously made detonator from a toy boat, said Hoffer.
The video’s tie to Megahed is a remote-controlled toy boat found during an FBI search of the Megahed’s New Tampa home, to which the family consented.
Mohamed faces the most serious charges against the two. In addition to the charge of transporting explosive devices faced by both, Mohamed faces charges for teaching and demonstrating the use of explosives.
Among the materials found when a South Carolina deputy pulled the two over for speeding in August – the fuses and PVC pipes stuffed with an explosive mixture of fertilizer, Karo corn syrup and kitty litter – much of it was purchased by Mohamed, Hoffer said.
The kitty litter served as a binder for potassium nitrate, a compound found in fertilizers and the corn syrup.
Evidence that Megahed was aware of the contents in the trunk of the car – most notably, the PVC pipes and explosive mixture – comes from audio tapes made of a conversation between the two while they sat in the back of a patrol car as deputies searched their car, Hoffer said.
“(Megahed) asks if the stuff in the trunk would explode,” he said.
Assistant U.S. Public Defender Adam Allen said the filled PVC pipes couldn’t do much damage because they weren’t capped and were made of plastic rather than metal, which can splinter into deadly shrapnel when exploded.
Hoffer said Megahed, while speaking on the tape, also asks what Mohamed told the deputies about a 5-gallon gas canister found in the trunk, to which Mohamed replied he told them it was in the car.
Among the other evidence raised against Megahed was a laptop Hoffer said a South Carolina deputy saw him quickly unplug and throw into the back of the car.
On the laptop, investigators found recent searches for Web sites and videos about Qassam rockets, used by Hamas.
Hoffer said Megahed had denied viewing the videos, but that Mohamed had said the two were watching the videos together as they took turns driving.
Hoffer also raised concerns about Mohamed’s purchase of a .22-caliber rifle in July.
The rifle, along with welding equipment and scuba-diving gear, was found during a search of a storage space rented by Mohamed, Hoffer said.
In the car, deputies found a box of .22-caliber bullets.
Megahed had also joined a shooting range, Hoffer said.
Oral arguments from Hoffer and Allen also turned on Megahed’s flight risk.
Hoffer cited two passports found in Megahed’s home by federal agents and long stays in Egypt during between 1998 and 2003 as reasons for denial of bond.
Allen said Megahed got the second passport after his first expired, and the stays in Egypt occurred while he was between the ages of 12 and 16, when most people have little say in their travel destinations.
“I don’t think the government’s evidence against my client is overwhelming,” said Allen. “He’s made no admissions of knowledge.
That number was too low, said Hoffer, hinting at business holdings in Egypt that would have made the $50,000 figure too low to pose a burden to the family were Megahed to flee.
“There’s more than adequate resources to cover that,” said Hoffer. “A lot more would be left over.”
He also said he was concerned about trips Megahed had made to Canada, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria.
As a condition of his bond, Megahed must wear the most intrusive of GPS monitoring systems and is forbidden to use the Internet.
As they gathered outside the courtroom, members of Megahed’s family and friends said they were happy about the judge’s ruling.
His father and mother declined to comment further, but his brother, Yahia, said the family would be able to raise the $200,000 bond set by the judge.
The bond is still under appeal from federal prosecutors, which could delay Megahed’s release by at least a week.
“We are just very glad,” said Yahia. “We knew this day would come.”
David Guidi can be reached at (813) 974-1888 or