Miriam Megahed didn’t know her 21-year-old brother Youssef, a suspended USF student now facing federal explosives charges, was very interested in guns.
And an employee at the U Store It self-storage facility on Skipper Road, where FBI agents found a .22 caliber rifle in a storage unit Youssef rented, didn’t think he acted in any way out of the ordinary.
“He walked in, paid his payment and he was gone,” she said.
Still, what Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Hoffer argued Oct. 5 – that Megahed aimed to acquire more firearms quickly and the Egyptian national was a flight-risk – was cause enough for U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday to revoke U.S. Magistrate Judge Judy Jenkins’ Sept. 14 decision to release Megahed on $200,000 bond so long as his family members surrendered their passports.
As a result, Megahed will remain behind bars at the Hillsborough County Jail until and during his trial, which is slated for Dec. 3.
Megahed and co-defendant Ahmed Mohamed – an Egyptian citizen with a student visa, who was also suspended by USF – were arrested Aug. 4 in Goose Creek, S.C. after officers conducting a consensual search found what were thought to be pipe bombs in the trunk of their Toyota Camry.
The contents of the trunk turned out to be PVC pipe filled with a mixture of corn syrup, cat litter and potassium nitrate, an explosive compound which cannot legally be transferred across state lines without a permit.
In a court document filed Thursday, Merryday made clear he felt uneasy releasing the student, citing not only Megahed’s July 17 purchase of a .22 caliber rifle and his recent membership at a shooting range in Tampa, but also stops en route to South Carolina he (Merryday) deemed suspicious.
The judge noted in the court papers that Megahed and Mohamed claimed to be on a beach trip, but “law enforcement located no bathing suit in the car after the pair’s arrest.” The pair also stopped at a Wal-Mart in Ocala at 4 a.m. and sought out the “availability and price of certain high-powered rifles,” such as a .270 caliber Savage rifle and a Model 710 Remington, he argued.
Merryday also pointed out that at 7 a.m., 3 hours after their first stop at Wal-Mart, Mohamed and Megahed bought a cleaning kit for a .30 caliber rifle, “although law enforcement is unaware of either defendant’s possessing a .30 caliber weapon.”
In his decision, Merryday expressed skepticism that any act except detention could keep Megahed from making or using explosive materials, and stated he was uncomfortable creating a potential risk to community safety.
“Stated directly and plainly,” Merryday wrote, “if Megahed wants to blow something up or cause a disturbance with a compound including KNO3 (Potassium Nitrate), I cannot determine that any or all the proposed conditions of release disable him from doing so and, given his behavior on and before August 4, 2007, I am unwilling at the prospective cost of property damage, injury, or death to assume that he will not do so.”
Merryday also stated he thought Megahed’s lack of ties to the community posed potential flight-risk and noted the student had a checking account with $3,000 and a family with “substantial business ties and interests in Egypt.” The Megahed family’s status as home renters did not substantiate a rooted position in the community, Merryday argued, and Youssef “is young and has no local investment (personal or financial), no established local career and no other compelling attachment to this locality.”
Megahed’s lawyer, Asst. U.S. Public Defender Adam Allen, said he was not taken aback by Merryday’s decision.
“I’m never surprised by a court’s ruling,” he said. “I was disappointed by the court’s ruling, but not surprised.”
Allen also said a “revocation of consent to search” filed Thursday – a document stating that Youssef Megahed and his family no longer voluntarily agree to law enforcement searches of their Tampa home and other property like cars and – is standard in any trial and not unique to this case.
“It’s pretty much standard,” he said.
At this moment, Allen said he and his client haven’t decided whether they plan to appeal Merryday’s decision.
“We’re evaluating our options,” he said.
Staff writer Victoria Bekiempis can be reached at 813-974-6299 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.