Man acquitted in terror trial fights deportation

MIAMI — The attorney for a 23-year-old Egyptian man who was acquitted this year of terrorism-related charges argued Monday that the federal government lacks the evidence needed to deport the former college student.

At an immigration hearing held in a windowless room at a Miami detention center, Youssef Megahed’s attorney criticized the government’s case, saying potential evidence exhibits were “garbage,” and could mislead the court.

“This court needs the courage to say ‘You know what, government? You’re wrong,”’ Megahed’s attorney, Charles Kuck, told immigration judge Kenneth S. Hurewitz.

The deportation proceedings stem from a traffic stop in August 2007, which led to federal explosives charges.

Megahed and a fellow University of South Florida student acted nervously when they were pulled over for speeding not far from a military base in rural South Carolina two years ago.

The men, who are both Egyptian, told authorities they were on a road trip to see the Carolina beaches. They had some homemade model rocket parts in the trunk that looked like pipe bombs to authorities, and were charged with possessing explosives that could be fashioned into a destructive device.

After a three-week trial, a federal jury acquitted Megahed in April. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested him as he left a Tampa Wal-Mart with his father a few days later.

The government attorneys involved in the immigration case want to prove that Megahed, who has lived in the United States since he was 11, should be deported back to Egypt because he engaged in a terrorist activity or is likely to do so in the future.

“It’s a very low burden of proof with this particular case,” government attorney Gina Garrett-Jackson said.

Kuck objected to the government’s evidence Monday and asked Hurewitz to terminate the case.

“The court must terminate the case,” he said. “There is no chargeable offense under which Mr. Megahed can be removed from the United States.”

Hurewitz allowed the proceedings to continue, but said he thought the case would be “very difficult to prove.”

Members of Megahed’s family, some of whom became U.S. citizens at a ceremony in Tampa last week, attended Monday’s hearing. Some family members are expected to testify as proceedings continue throughout the week.

“If the judge is brave and he can make a good decision to release my son, we will win this case,” Megahed’s father, 62-year-old Samir Megahed, said after the proceedings ended Monday.

The government Monday tried to connect Megahed with Ahmed Mohamed, his traveling companion for the 2007 road trip.

Authorities found Mohamed’s laptop computer in the car during the 2007 arrest, and videos on the computer showed that he sympathized with Palestinian terrorists. The computer contained a video that demonstrated how to convert a remote-controlled toy into bomb detonator.

FBI special agent Frederick Humphries rehashed the 2007 arrest during his testimony Monday, explaining why authorities believed Megahed could also be associated with terrorist activities. Humphries said investigators were wary of Megahed and Mohamed’s story about road trip, wondering why the pair would leave the coastal state of Florida in search of other beaches. Humphries also said authorities also thought it was odd that Megahed and Mohamed stopped to try and buy a firearm along the way.

“We’re trying to connect all the dots, to see if the dots come together,” Humphries said. “In this case, there are a lot of connected dots.”