Family rallies in bomb case

They say their son, accused of carrying bombs, is innocent.

By ABBIE VANSICKLE, Times Staff Writer
Published August 10, 2007

TAMPA - Samir Megahed flipped on the television Sunday night and watched life change before his eyes.

There was his 21-year-old son with a friend, both accused of carrying pipe bombs in a car near a naval base in South Carolina.

Megahed, a 60-year-old civil engineer, dialed his son Youssef's cell. No answer.

"I'm going to support him because I know he's innocent," the father said. "He is innocent. I will not leave him in prison."

From the time they learned their son and the friend, Ahmed Mohamed, had been arrested, the Megahed family knew it was a big deal. Originally from Egypt, they believe their background is the reason the arrest made headlines.

"We're really concerned about his safety," said his older brother, Yahia Megahed, 24. "We think it's getting lots of attention, and it's not necessary."

On Thursday, the family spoke with reporters at their tidy townhouse in a gated New Tampa subdivision, then read a short prepared statement for television cameras.

The message: Youssef Megahed is a typical college student, a mechanical engineering major who loves grilling out and scuba diving. Not a terrorist.

The young man's father, mother, sister and two brothers said they came to the United States because of the country's freedoms and they believe the evidence will exonerate him.

"We have faith in the justice system," said his sister, Mariam Megahed, 18, a student at Hillsborough Community College. "We know they are working to find the truth."

This all began when Youssef Megahed decided to go on a road trip to see North Carolina, his family said.

Megahed worked long hours this summer at a mental health facility and planned to finish his degree this fall at the University of South Florida. His family was vacationing at a time-share in St. Pete Beach, but Megahed decided to take a road trip, and his friend Mohamed agreed to join him. The two left Friday at midnight. The family doesn't know if they had a specific destination.

Megahed's family said they have never met Mohamed, but that Megahed had gone on other road trips, including a recent drive to Key West.

On Saturday, a Berkeley County sheriff's deputy pulled them over and accused them of driving 60 in a 45 mph zone.

Then, the deputy asked to search the car, and the men agreed, according to an arrest affidavit. Inside the trunk, the deputy found "several pipe bombs," according to the arrest affidavit.

Both men were arrested. A prosecutor argued they were dangerous and a flight risk. A judge set Mohamed's bail at $500,000 and Megahed's at $300,000. Both remained in the Berkeley County jail on Thursday.

Mohamed's family in Egypt is working with the Egyptian consulate on his case, according to his faculty adviser.

Megahed's family planned to drive to South Carolina on Thursday to speak with attorneys and to try to talk with Megahed.

They say they're concerned for his safety, especially because of the publicity the case has received.

The Megaheds say they don't know what was in the car trunk. Youssef Megahed usually carried equipment for grilling, they said.

Initial news reports said the men told deputies they had fireworks in the trunk. The Megahed family said they weren't aware of that, and that the family did not have fireworks because of subdivision rules.

The FBI has declined to comment on the case. The agency won't say when tests results of the material from the trunk will be released.

The Megaheds say they also gave the FBI permission to search their home. The family stayed at the beach time-share until after the search to prove they wanted to cooperate fully, that they weren't trying destroy evidence, said Samir Megahed.

"We are innocent people," he said. "We didn't have anything to hide."