Suspect's father: Son is no terrorist

Samir Megahed and his wife, Ahlam, parents of Youssef Megahed, outside the Berkeley County Jail in Moncks Corner on Saturday. Youssef Megahed has been held since Aug. 4.

Grace Beahm

MONCKS CORNER — Samir Megahed walked out of the Berkeley County Detention Center on Saturday and into a gray mist. He had just seen his son, Youssef, 24, who was indicted Friday by a federal grand jury in Florida on a single charge of transporting explosives without a permit.

The father's eyes were moist. "It's killing me," he said, quietly. "It's my son."

Samir Megahed said his family in the United States and Egypt has been in shock since his son and another University of South Florida student, Ahmed Mohamed, were pulled over Aug. 4 for speeding in Goose Creek and arrested for what authorities said was a pipe bomb in the trunk.

While authorities haven't said the case is terrorism-related, Friday's indictment alleged that Mohamed, a civil engineering student, taught and demonstrated how to make an explosive device to further "an activity that constitutes a federal crime of violence."

Samir Megahed said his son is no terrorist. "If he was a white man and not from the Middle East, I'm sorry, he would not be here today."

Samir Megahed, 60, said he is a civil engineer, and that he and his family came to the United States from Egypt 10 years ago. They live in the Tampa, Fla., area, where his son was one course away from graduating from the University of South Florida with a degree in mechanical engineering.

He said his family has a two-week timeshare deal that allows them to stay at resorts up and down the coast, and that his son was looking at possible vacation spots in North Carolina and South Carolina. His son is thrifty, he said, and often goes out of his way to shop at Wal-Mart.

"He would spend 10 cents more in gas to pay 2 cents less" for something from Wal-Mart, Samir said, prompting smiles from his wife and daughter. He said his son often punched in the locations of Murphy gas stations on the car's GPS.

The gas stations are usually found at Wal-Marts. He said that's how his son ended up on St. James Avenue in Goose Creek, about a mile from a Wal-Mart.

Some press reports have described how Megahed and Mohamed were in the vicinity of the Naval Weapons Station, but Megahed's attorney, Andy Savage, said the GPS will show that they were heading away from the installation.

Samir Megahed said that in his culture, the entire family suffers when someone is accused of wrongdoing. "We have no charge like this in my family for 400 years. It's killing all my family in Egypt." He said his son spent most of his time studying and holding down two jobs, one at a mental health clinic and another at a car dealership. "He wanted to become a mechanical engineer, just like his grandfather" in Egypt.

Samir said he's talked to FBI agents more than a dozen times and given them the keys to his house. "I told them to go in and look around, and if you find something, take it."

He said FBI agents ended up seizing a $19 remote-control boat his son bought at Wal-Mart for his younger brother, Yassien, age 11. Yassien has mangled fingers from a surgery and was using the joy stick on the remote to improve his fingers' flexibility and control, Samir said.

Friday's indictments apparently are related to an ongoing investigation in Tampa. On Aug. 11, the FBI searched a home in Tampa leased in the early 1990s to World and Islam Studies Enterprise, a think tank run by Sami Al-Arian, a former University of South Florida professor.

Last year, Al-Arian pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to provide services to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The home's owner told reporters in Tampa that Mohamed planned to move into the house Aug. 7.

Samir said his family didn't know Mohamed.

Savage added that the government has provided no evidence that Megahed even knew what was in the trunk, although he was driving the car when it was stopped.

Nearly a month has passed since his son was arrested, and Samir Megahed said he worries that the government will try to slow the wheels of justice. His son's bond was set at $300,000, and Mohamed's at $500,000. He says he has sleepless nights now — he calls them "white nights" because he's awake from sundown to sunrise.

"We have nothing to do now but wait."