TAMPA - Pipes stuffed with fertilizer, Karo syrup and kitty litter. Bullets and fuses. A laptop with Internet searches about martyrdom, Hamas and Qassam rockets. Video instructions for turning a child's toy into a detonator.
After weeks of silence, the U.S. Attorney's Office opened up about its case against two University of South Florida engineering students facing explosives charges, implying that Youssef Megahed and Ahmed Mohamed had something sinister in mind when they left Tampa in early August and headed north.
Despite the grim implications of what the government presented, prosecutors said they had no "hard, specific evidence" of a motive or answers for a judge's questions about what the men intended to do with the items, prompting U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Jenkins to set bail for one of the men, although he remains in custody pending appeal.
Unless the men told prosecutors, how would they know what was intended? I think it's safe to say the materials weren't meant for beach volleyball.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Hoffer laid out the government's case, saying they view the men as dangerous and at risk of fleeing to their home country of Egypt, a place that doesn't always return fugitives to the United States.
Here's what Hoffer said:
When federal agents searched the men's car, a Toyota Camry registered to Megahed's brother, Yahia Megahed, they found the stuffed pipes wrapped in plastic bags in the trunk alongside a 5-gallon container of gasoline.
Explosives experts categorized the items in the trunk as incomplete pipe bombs, each large enough to blow out windows in a room but not strong enough to destroy a house. Potassium nitrate is a low-grade explosive otherwise used as fertilizer. Kitty litter bound the ingredients while syrup could add fuel.
"I think you can safely say it's a bomb," said Edward Dreizin, a New Jersey Institute of Technology chemical engineering professor.
Agents also found a box of bullets underneath the front passenger seat, where Megahed sat. On a laptop hastily unplugged, agents discovered sites that concerned them, including searches of Qassam rockets, weapons developed by the Palestinian militant group Hamas, often made with steel pipe, liquid sugar and potassium nitrate.
Mohamed's attorney did not think he would be granted a bond so Mohamed waived his right to a bail hearing. Megahed was ordered to post $200,000 bond and "to remain at his family's home, and to leave only for religious services and to meet with his attorneys. His family also was required to consent to a search at any time". Megahed should surely be considered a flight risk, between 1998 and and 2003, he spent more than 1,600 days in Egypt:
Authorities said he also has traveled to Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Canada, and that his family has substantial business ties in Egypt.
As for Mohamed's video, it's a how-to video for would-be terrorists, not much doubt about that:
In July, Mohamed posted a video on YouTube that explained how to transform a toy remote controlled car into a detonator, Hoffer said. The 12-minute video is narrated by a man speaking Arabic with an Egyptian accent. It shows no face, only hands.
"Mohamed admitted he made and uploaded it," Hoffer said.
The video's narrator says it's meant "to save one who wants to be a martyr for another day in battle," Hoffer said. The narrator also mentions a previous example that used a remote controlled toy boat. Federal agents searched the New Tampa home of Megahed's family and found a remote controlled toy boat, Hoffer said.
CAIR pipes in, defending Megahed and chastising Mohamed for making things harder for Muslims in the U.S.:
Ahmed Bedier, director of the Central Florida office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, was quick to distinguish between Megahed and Mohamed.
"It's obvious there are two separate individuals with different charges and different allegations," he said. "I wouldn't be surprised if the two individuals end up having separate cases altogether."
He defended Megahed, saying it appeared he "just happened to be in the car." But he had harsher words for Mohamed.
If he could talk to Mohamed, Bedier said, "I'd say, 'Wake up!' "
He added, "Muslims don't get a second chance when they dabble with things like this. Not only will this have consequences on him, but it will have consequences on most of the Muslims in this country."
Dan Riehl has more on Mohamed here.