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Suspended students continue to face trial

On. Aug. 4, two USF students were arrested in Goose Creek, S.C., after authorities found pipe bombs in their car. Ahmed Mohamed, an Egyptian national in the United States on a student visa and Youssef Megahed, a permanent resident of the United States, now face federal explosives charges, and are in the midst of a complicated legal process laden with appeals, motions and even Tampa’s version of a lawyer to the local stars. Both students have since been suspended by the University.

Below is a chronological look at some of the main aspects of the case, as well as new developments that have taken shape over the break.

Aug. 4, 2007: Megahed and Mohamed were arrested in Goose Greek, S.C. Authorities originally pulled them over for speeding, but found what were later determined to be pipe bombs in their trunk while conducting a voluntary search of the vehicle.

Aug. 31, 2007: Mohamed and Megahed were indicted by a federal grand jury, according to the Sept. 4 edition of the Oracle. The penalty for transporting explosives without a license was up to 10 years in prison, but Mohamed faced an additional 20 years in prison as he was also charged with teaching how to use an explosive device.

Oct. 3, 2007: Megahed pleaded not guilty at his arraignment.

Oct. 24, 2007: John Fitzgibbons, who has represented Debra LaFave, the former middle school teacher who had sex with a student, and American Idol finalist Jessica Sierra, who faces felony battery charges, officially signed on to be Mohamed’s lawyer. Mohamed, who is charged with making and teaching how to use an explosive device, also pleaded not guilty.

Oct. 25, 2007: U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday decided that Megahed must stay in jail until the trial ends, citing concerns that the 21-year-old’s sudden bourgeoning interest in guns might be potentially dangerous. The judge noted in 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, Merryday said.

Nov. 30, 2007: The trial, originally slated to start Monday, Dec. 3, was pushed back to March.

Dec. 13, 2007: A third USF student connected to Megahed and Mohamed was arrested. Karim Moussaoui, a graduating senior majoring in engineering, was arrested for violating the terms of his student visa, according to the St. Petersburg Times. The Times goes on to report that a picture of Moussaoui holding a gun at a range was found on Megahed’s computer, and that individuals who hold student visas can’t have guns.

Dec. 21, 2007: Megahed’s attorneys filed paperwork arguing that evidence collected during the search of the vehicle, including the pipe bombs – PVC pipes filled with kitty litter and corn syrup – was inadmissable as they considered the detainment and search to be an unconsitutitional ‘seizure’ of Mohamed and Megahed. The defense thus argued that the deputy who originally detained them searched them without probable cause, violating the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.

Also, the deputy engaged “in an inappropriate conversation with his partner that included the making of several derogatory comments concerning the religion, ethnicity and nationality of Mr. Mohammed and Mr. Megahed,” read the motion. “Examples of these comments include, but are not limited to, Deputy Blakely and his partner referring to Mr. Mohammed and Mr. Megahed as ‘graduates of suicide bomber school’ and ‘members of the Taliban.” Given these comments, the arresting officer “unlawfully racially profiled” Megahed and Mohamed, according to the defense.