Arrested USF Students to be topic of DHS/Congressional meeting

Douglas J. Hagmann, Director

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“If these were Swedish-Americans or Italian-Americans, we would not be in this position.”
-–Attorney Andrew J. Savage, Charleston, SC lawyer for Youssef Samir Megahed;

[Nominated by the Northeast Intelligence Network as the MOST ridiculous statement of the day].
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5 September 2007: The case of the two University of South Florida students is expected to be the topic of a private meeting, supplemental to a meeting previously scheduled for 10:00 this morning between Rep. Bennie Thompson, head of the Committee on Homeland Security and Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff. According to published reports, another Committee member, Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor also intends to question Chertoff about the larger homeland security implications of federal grand jury indictments returned last Friday against the two students, Ahmed Abdellatif Sherif MOHAMED, 24, and Youssef Samir MEGAHED, 21, who were arrested in South Carolina on 4 August 2007 with explosives in their vehicle.

MOHAMED, a graduate student and teaching assistant at the University of South Florida, and MEGAHED, an undergraduate student, were charged with transporting explosives without permits, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. MOHAMED was also charged with one count of explosives training, which carries a possible prison sentence of 20 years.

At issue with regard to the larger security implications is the criminal background of Ahmed Abdellatif Sherif MOHAMED, who was previously arrested in Egypt on terrorism-related charges. He reportedly produced an Internet instructional video illustrating how to construct a bomb in a remote controlled vehicle, such as hobby-sized car, boat or helicopter. Despite his known arrest and ties to potential terrorist activities, MOHAMED was nonetheless granted legal entry into the United States. Both men are Egyptian citizens; MEGAHED is a permanent, legal U.S. resident and MOHAMED is in the U.S. compliments of a student visa. With the news of MOHAMED’S previous arrest in Egypt, questions have arisen concerning proper coordination between all of the federal agencies regarding the granting of student visas and background considerations.

Despite being indicted by a Tampa grand jury last Friday, friends and family of the two students continue to claim that they are innocent of any charges, and also continue to contend that the “explosives” could have been firecrackers left over from an Independence Day celebration. Andrew J. Savage, a lawyer in Charleston, S.C., who is representing Mr. Megahed, said the chemical compounds found in the car belonged to Mr. Mohamed and were “not much more than a firecracker - this is no high-powered explosive.”

In a public interview, Mr. Savage also said he was convinced that his client was the victim of ethnic profiling, adding that “If these were Swedish-Americans or Italian-Americans, we would not be in this position.”

Background

Sean Osborne, associate director of the Northeast Intelligence Network initially reported on the incident on in an article published on 5 August 2007.

On 11 August 2007 - one week after they were stopped in South Carolina, the FBI executed search warrants at a home located at 12402 Pampas Place, Tampa Florida owned by Noor and Ana SALHAB and a vehicle belonging to that address. Although authorities were tight-lipped about what was taken from the home, officials close to the Northeast Intelligence Network confirmed that among the items seized from that address included but were not limited to a gas tank from a lawn mower, a computer owned by Ghassan SALHAB, plastic pipes, and a remote controlled hobby-sized car.

The dwelling at 12402 Pampas Place, Tampa is familiar to investigators. Owned by Noor and Ana SALHAB, the residence was previously leased to the World and Islam Studies Enterprise (WISE), one of two groups founded by convicted terrorism supporter Sami Al-Arian, a former professor at the University of South Florida, which is the same university that MEGAHED and MOHAMED attended. Both have been suspended from the university pending the outcome of their case.

Noor SALHAB publicly confirmed that his son, Ghassan SALHAB, has been living in the home and renting to college students while waiting to sell it. Noor Salhab said a friend of MOHAMED’S rented a room there, and MOHAMED planned to move in on August 7.