USF student's dad will miss hearing

The families say it will be difficult to get people to testify because of Ramadan prayer services.

By ABBIE VANSICKLE, Times Staff Writer
Published September 13, 2007

TAMPA - The father of Ahmed Mohamed, one of the two University of South Florida students facing federal explosives charges, says he plans to come to Florida but not in time for Friday's hearing.

Abdellatif Mohamed, the vice chairman of Egypt's National Authority for Tunnels, said he won't be in Florida for the hearing to decide whether the students will be released on bail, but he plans to come as the case winds through the court system.

"I will come if there is a fixed date to see Ahmed," he said.

Speaking by phone from Cairo, Mohamed said he didn't know who would testify on his son's behalf at the hearing, scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday in federal court.

The family of the other student, Youssef Megahed, 21, is struggling with the same question. They have raised concerns that the hearing is scheduled in the middle of mandatory prayer services during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

On Wednesday, the family said the hearing likely wouldn't be rescheduled, which could make it difficult for them to find people to go to court.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth A. Jenkins will discuss appointing a federal public defender for Megahed on Friday. Jenkins' office said Wednesday that the judge had not received a formal request from Megahed for a court-appointed attorney.

Ahmed Mohamed will be represented in court by Charleston attorney Lionel Lofton, who was retained by the Egyptian Embassy on Mohamed's behalf. Lofton plans to arrive in Tampa today to meet with his client.

The men are being held on federal charges of transporting explosives in interstate commerce without permits, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

Mohamed has an additional charge of distributing information relating to explosives, destructive devices and weapons of mass destruction, a terrorism-related statute that carries a maximum of 20 years.

Even if a judge allows Mohamed and Megahed to post bail, Mohamed likely won't be free, Lofton said. There is an immigration hold on him, so he would be transferred to the custody of immigration authorities, even if he posts bail for the criminal charges, Lofton said. Both men are Egyptian citizens, but Mohamed is here on a student visa, while Megahed is a legal resident of the United States.

Both men are being held in the Falkenburg Road Jail. Megahed declined an interview request on Wednesday. Mohamed has refused to follow a jail rule to wear a wristband, so he was not allowed to consider an interview request, according to a jail official.

Mohamed's father said he has spoken with his son only once in two weeks.

"He is wondering what will be done with him," Mohamed said.

Asked about his family, Mohamed said only that he has two children, Ahmed, 26, and another son, who is 25.

He said Ahmed Mohamed has lots of friends in Egypt and is close to his mentor, an engineering professor at the USF.

Those who have never met Ahmed Mohamed "should know that he's a good guy, and he's innocent, and we're supporting him," Abdellatif Mohamed said.

Abbie VanSickle can be reached at 226-3373 or vansickle@sptimes.com.