TAMPA, Florida: A judge has determined that a sheriff s deputy had probable cause to stop and search a car that resulted in the discovery of low-grade explosives and the arrest of two Egyptian college students last summer.
The opinion came Thursday as a recommendation by US Magistrate Judge Mark Pizzo. If it is accepted by the presiding trial judge, the items found in the car can be used against Ahmed Abdellatif Sherif Mohamed and Youssef Samir Megahed at their trial in April on charges of illegally transporting explosives.
Attorneys for the former University of South Florida engineering students argued at a hearing last week that a Berkeley County, South Carolina sheriff s deputy didn t have probable cause or consent to search the car after pulling them over for speeding Aug. 4.
They argued that the deputy, James Lamar Blakely, conducted the search primarily because the two students were obviously of Middle Eastern descent and had copies of the Quran in the car. The dashboard camera in the deputy s car caught him on tape using the terms “terrorist and “Taliban to describe the students.
But Pizzo wrote that despite the remarks, “the officer had probable cause to stop the defendants for speeding, the brief questioning of the defendants was not unreasonable in scope nor duration, and the driver consented to the search.
Blakely had testified that Mohamed delayed pulling the car over while Megahed slammed a laptop computer closed and fumbled with something in the console. When the young men were questioned, they were vague about where they were going and where they had been, the deputy said.
One of Mohamed s attorneys, Lyann Goudie, said Friday that she was disappointed by the opinion and may file an objection before a federal judge rules. Megahed s attorney, Adam Allen, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Mohamed, 26, and Megahed, 21, have been in jail since their arrests in South Carolina. Prosecutors say they were illegally carrying dangerous explosives when they were pulled over in Goose Creek, South Carolina, near a naval weapons station in Charleston.
The two students say they were on an innocent road trip to see the Carolina beaches. And they contend that the materials that resulted in the charges – a PVC pipe containing a mixture of sugar, potassium nitrate and cat litter, plus fuses – were being used by Mohamed to make fireworks commonly called “sugar rockets.
More troublesome for Mohamed is a second, terrorism-related charge brought after authorities say they found a video he made demonstrating how to convert a remote-controlled toy into a detonator for a bomb.
According to an FBI affidavit, he told authorities that he made the video “to assist those persons in Arabic countries to defend themselves against the infidels invading their countries.