TAMPA, Florida: An Egyptian student was found not guilty Friday on charges of carrying explosives that prosecutors said could have been used to build a dangerous rocket.
Youssef Samir Megahed s family teared up as the jury read its verdict, finding him not guilty of carrying explosives across state lines and possessing a destructive device. Prosecutors said deputies found PVC pipes, fuses, and other materials that could have been combined with gasoline to build a destructive device when the former University of South Florida student and a friend were pulled over in South Carolina in August 2007. The attorney for Megahed had argued that the items were no more harmful than a road flare, and that his friend, Ahmed Mohamed, put the items in the car trunk without Megahed s knowledge.
The case was filled with terrorist overtones, and came nearly four months after Mohamed was sentenced to 15 years in prison for making a YouTube video showing would-be terrorists how to turn a remote-control toy into a bomb detonator. The 12-minute clip was found on a laptop computer inside the men s car.
Megahed wasn t charged in connection with the video.
The 12-member jury deliberated for about 22 hours over four days before reaching their verdict. As US District Judge Steven D. Merryday read the not guilty finding, Megahed s family watched with tears and joy.
We feel comfort and happiness for our son that we win this case, Samir Megahed, the young man s father, said.
Defense attorney Adam Allen said the case shows that the justice system works.
During the trial, Allen told jurors Megahed, 23, and his friend were on an innocent weekend college road trip to see East Coast beaches when they were arrested near Charleston, South Carolina. But prosecutor Jay Hoffer said that what deputies found in the trunk of the men s borrowed Toyota Camry made them jump back in fear – four sections of PVC pipe containing a mixture of sugar, potassium nitrate, cat litter, plus fuses. He described the items as low explosives that were illegal to carry across state lines and could have been combined with gasoline to create a destructive device.
Hoffer said the men spoke to each other in Arabic after they were stopped, getting their stories straight.
Deputies also found a laptop computer with a video Mohamed had produced and posted on the YouTube Web site. Mohamed narrated the video in Arabic, saying he wanted to teach martyrdoms and suiciders how to save themselves so they can continue to fight invaders, including US soldiers.
The video was not shown to jurors in Megahed s trial. Allen has said Megahed had no knowledge of the video. A Tampa federal judge deemed it irrelevant to the case, and a US appeals court upheld his ruling.
Allen sought to distance his client from Mohamed, a University of South Florida graduate student whom he had known for less than a year. He called the PVC pipe sections model rocket motors assembled with common household items by Megahed s friend, and put into the car trunk without Megahed s knowledge.
Ramzy Killic, director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Tampa Chapter, sat with Megahed s family in the courtroom as they awaited the verdict on Friday. He said he was not surprised by their finding.
I was confident from the beginning the jury would choose fact over fear, he said.
Megahed, dressed in a white shirt and yellow tie, said that upon hearing the verdict, I felt happy.
Before leaving the courtroom, prosecutor Robert Monk told reporters, We respect the jury s verdict when we prevail in a case, and we respect a jury s verdict when we do not prevail in a case.
Megahed said he plans to go back to the University of South Florida to finish his engineering degree. He was one course shy of graduation at the time of his arrest. And then? Get a job, he said.
The family said they plan to pray at their mosque tonight.
Then, Samir Megahed said, We are going to spend the next week in the beach.