USF students Ahmed Mohamed (left) and Youssef Megahed (right), face federal explosive charges.
A federal grand jury in Tampa has indicted two USF students for transporting explosive materials and one of the students for teaching or demonstrating how to make or use an explosive device.
The indictments, unsealed Friday, deepen the legal troubles for Ahmed Mohamed and Youssef Megahed, who face charges in South Carolina for the possession of an explosive device.
Mohamed’s indictment on charges of teaching or demonstrating the use of an explosive device states he intended the information be used to violate a federal law that prohibits training and giving expert advice to terrorists.
In an interview with the St. Petersburg Times, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Tampa said terrorism was not a focus of the investigation.
According to the indictment, this activity occurred between June and Aug. 4, the date the two were arrested in South Carolina.
Both students face a maximum federal sentence of 10 years on the charge of transporting explosive materials.
If convicted on the additional count, Mohamed could spend up to 20 more years in prison.
The university announced the provisional suspension of Megahed and Mohamed on Friday.
The students were informed of the suspension by letter about two weeks ago and have six months to plead their case for reinstatement, said USF spokesman Ken Gullette.
“We became concerned they had violated University policy on explosive devices when we saw reports from South Carolina law enforcement that the two may have been carrying pipe bombs,” Gullette said.
The two can still be tried on the state charges in South Carolina, but a lawyer for Megahed (pronounced Me-GAW-hed) said he expects those charges to be dropped before state prosecutors have to reveal any evidence.
“The federal government is going to drive this train,” said Andy Savage, the South Carolina attorney representing Megahed. “I would expect the state government to fold their tent.”
The two are being held in a South Carolina jail on a combined $800,000 bond – $300,000 for Megahed and $500,000 for Mohamed – and have a trial date set for Sept. 21 on state possession charges.
Savage said he expected the next step in federal proceedings would be a hearing in a South Carolina federal court.
The trouble for the pair began when a deputy stopped them for speeding in Goose Creek, S.C. The deputy later found what he believed were pipe bombs during a search of their car.
His suspicions were later confirmed by two bomb technicians from an assisting agency, according to an arrest affidavit. Mohamed told a South Carolina judge he had fireworks in the car.
Other than the scant information in the affidavit, little is known of the evidence federal and state prosecutors have gathered about the students.
Federal investigators have seized materials from a Temple Terrace rental home where Mohamed planned to move and which held some of his belongings.
They also took a computer from the Tampa home of the Megahed family, who consented to an FBI search.
The proceedings of the federal grand jury in Tampa, which subpoenaed DNA samples from the pair last week, is sealed.
Also sealed is testimony given before the grand jury by the landlord of the Temple Terrace rental home, where Mohamed planned to stay. The landlord’s son and Ahmed Bedier, the local leader of a Muslim advocacy group, the Council on American Islamic Directions (CAIR), also testified.
Deputies collected cell phones and a GPS system when the students were arrested in South Carolina, Savage said.
Investigators have performed forensic tests of materials found in the trunk of the student’s car, though the results have not been released.
“I don’t have a clue about what the evidence is against them,” Savage said. “My client has given me no indication that any additional charges will be coming against. He certainly doesn’t appear to be a terrorist.”
Savage said he was meeting with Megahed and his family when the indictment first became public. He said he first read the indictments online and said he wasn’t surprised his clients were indicted, or at their high bonds.
“The US government’s strategy in these cases is to detain suspects for as long as they can to investigate,
” he said. “It’s not surprising that the FBI and other agencies are searching these students as broadly and deeply as they can.”
Mohamed and Megahed are both natives of Egypt and already were being held on state explosives charges in South Carolina. Mohamed, whose age is listed as 24 or 26 in court and sheriff’s documents, is a civil engineering graduate student and teaching assistant at USF. Megahed is an engineering student.
Gullette said Megahed is a permanent resident of the United States.
Mohamed was at the University on a student visa and passed federal Homeland Security screenings before coming to the University in January, Gullette said.
“He was screened and cleared,” said Gullette. “So if someone wants to point a finger, maybe they should point it at Washington, not USF.”
Since their arrest, Bedier, the executive director of CAIR, has said the public should wait before deciding on the guilt or innocence of the students.
“The Muslim community is concerned about these serious charges,” said Bedier. “We have full faith the American justice system will lead to the truth. But we’re still in the dark. We need to see the evidence.”
Read the indictment and associated federal terrorism statutes online.
David Guidi can be reached at (813) 974 – 1888 or oracleguidi