The U.S. Attorney’s Office opened up about what was found in the car of two USF students: pipes stuffed with fertilizer, Karo syrup, kitty litter, bullets and fuses, a laptop with Internet searches about martyrdom, Hamas and Qassam rockets and video instructions for turning a child’s toy into a detonator.
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.
The question of intent has been the biggest puzzle since Aug. 4, when Megahed, 21, and Mohamed, 26, were pulled over for speeding in Goose Creek, S.C., and arrested after a deputy became suspicious and searched the pair’s car.
From the start, Megahed’s family has said the young man went on a harmless road trip, the whims of college students on summer vacation. The family and supporters filled Courtroom 14B on Friday afternoon, and Megahed’s siblings were beaming after the judge’s ruling.
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.
See our previous stories on this case here.