Students’ trial date moved back

The trial date for two suspended USF students facing federal explosives charges will be postponed until next year, according to sources close to the case.

The pair’s trial, slated to start Monday, Dec. 3, was postponed until March 2008, said Assistant U.S. Public Defender Adam Allen. Allen represents Yousef Megahed, who along with Ahmed Mohamed, awaits their trial.

In recent filings, both Allen and John Fitzgibbons, the high-powered celebrity lawyer representing Mohamed, indicated uncertainty about the appropriateness of the Dec. 3 trial date.

On Nov. 19, Fitzgibbons moved to delay the trial, citing concerns that the defense needs time for lengthy testing of prosecutor’s evidence before the trial begins. Because much of the evidence is stored at the FBI laboratory in Quantico, Va., Fitzgibbons said its examination might take more time.

“It will be necessary for the defense to consult with – and possibly employ – computer experts, explosives exerts and probably other experts,” he wrote.

In the filing, Fitzgibbons also said the complexity of the case necessitated a longer timeline. Mohamed and Megahed are charged with carrying explosives, but Mohamed also faces the more serious charge of teaching how to use explosive devices, which carries with it a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.

On Nov. 9, Allen’s office also filed the paperwork to separate Megahed’s trial from Mohamed’s trial, citing concerns that Megahed will be unfairly associated with the evidence presented against Mohamed on the charge of teaching how to use explosive devices. This charge, based on a video made by Mohamed that provides instructions for turning a remote-controlled car into a detonator, constitutes “material support for terrorism,” according to a federal statute. After the court denied his motion to separate, Allen asked the court to reconsider in a filing made Nov. 30.

Should the request fall through, Allen said he would pursue the issue in appeals court, pending his legal options.

“If we’re lawfully allowed to appeal, we will appeal,” he said.

Megahed, 21, and Mohamed, 24, were arrested Aug. 4 in Goose Creek, S.C. after officers conducting a consensual search found what appeared to pipe bombs made from PVC pipes in the trunk of their Toyota Camry.

Both Megahed and Mohamed are Egyptian nationals. Megahed holds permanent resident status in United States, while Mohamed is in the country on a student visa. While Megahed is being represented by the U.S. Federal Public Defender’s Office, the Egyptian Embassy will cover Mohamed’s legal expenses. The Embassy is paying the legal costs of Mohamed’s defense, including the fees for Fitzgibbons – who has represented local celebrities Debra LaFave and ex-American Idol finalist Jessica Sierra.

Allen said he is confident of his preparation to go to trial even earlier than March if the government hands over all their evidence in a timely manner, as directed by the court.

“If the government provides us with that, we could be ready to go to trial by February,” he said.

Allen would not say whether he intended to seek out independent translators to review the documents and media in the evidence the government had translated.

Victoria Bekiempis can be reached at (813) 974-888 or