TAMPA – Three days after two USF students were arrested in South Carolina and charged with carrying pipe bombs in their car, new information has raised more questions than it has answered.
Prosecutors in South Carolina told a judge Monday that Yousef Megahed, 21, and Ahmed Mohamed, 24, had pipe bombs in the trunk of their car when Berkeley County deputies stopped them less than 10 miles from a military facility in Goose Creek, South Carolina on Saturday.
Through a spokesman for a local Muslim advocacy group, members of Megahed’s family have maintained their son’s innocence. At the hearing, Mohamed told a judge he had fireworks in the trunk.
A spokesman for the FBI said they suspect no “clear link with terrorism exists” in an interview with CNN, and FBI agents from the Tampa field office searched Megahed’s Tampa home Monday.
But still, much remains unknown.
“I want to see the evidence,” said Ahmed Bedier, a spokesman for the local chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations who has spoken repeatedly with Megahed’s family over the last three days.
“Pictures, forensic tests – the evidence doesn’t lie.”
FBI tests on the material were still pending Monday.
A deputy found what he believed to be several pipe bombs when he pulled over Megahed (pronounced Me-GA-hed) and Mohamed for speeding in a Toyota Camry around 5:30 pm Saturday night in Goose Creek, SC about 20 miles north of Charleston.
Bomb technicians confirmed that objects in the trunk were pipe bombs, according to the report, and later detonated the suspicious materials.
Mohamed told deputies he made the devices in the trunk and bought the items to make them from Wal-Mart, the report stated.
During the two men’s bond hearing Monday, a judge set bail at $800,000 for the two men, $500,000 for Mohamed and $300,000 for Mohamed, after prosecutors said they considered the two a flight risk.
But Bedier questioned the charges during a press conference Monday, citing the lack of evidence released by law enforcement and pending FBI tests on evidence in the car.
During the press conference, Jassim Aldeen, the president of USF’s Muslim Student Association and an acquaintance of Megahed, said Megahed had advertised a South Carolina sightseeing trip for friends willing to chip in for gas.
He also said Megahed’s friends knew him as a quiet guy with a good sense of humor who always smiled.
“He was kind, attentive, always telling jokes,” Aldeen said.
Speculation about the contents of the trunk came from Bedier, who said in conversations with Megahed’s father he learned the student was an avid car mechanic and had tools and possibly gas cans and car parts in his trunk.
A prominent advocate for Sami al-Arian during the former USF professor’s arrest and trial, Bedier said the Arab backgrounds of the two men played a role in the decision to shut down a stretch of South Carolina highway 20 miles north of Charleston for hours after the arrest. He also questioned whether media coverage of the arrests was proportional to the charges.
“If two good old boys from South Carolina had been pulled over, I doubt it would have made news headlines around the world,” Bedier said at the press conference.
Both Mohamed and Megahed lived in Egypt, and Mohamed also lived in Kuwait, according to USF officials.
Mohamed is a graduate student in environmental engineering, who was born in Kuwait and did his undergraduate work in Cairo, said USF spokesman Ken Gulette during a Monday press conference. He was registered for 6 hours of directed study this summer.
Megahed is pursuing an undergraduate degree in engineering and lives with his family in Tampa. He has studied at USF since 2004 and is registered for 3 credit hours in the fall, Gulette said.
Aldeen said he participated in campus activities for Muslim students more often than most.
Neither lived on campus, officials said.”I would warn against jumping to conclusions before all the facts are in,” Gulette said.
David Guidi can be reached at (813) 974-1888 or firstname.lastname@example.org