Egyptian college student’s jury fights possible deportation efforts

TAMPA, Fla. – Four jurors who acquitted an Egyptian college student of federal explosives charges criticized U.S. immigration authorities yesterday for trying to deport him, saying it was a ‘blatant disregard’ of their verdict. The jurors were among 12 who found Youssef Megahed, 23, not guilty April 3 of possessing explosives prosecutors claimed could have been used to build a destructive bomb or rocket. Three days after Megahed walked free, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested him as he left a Tampa store with his father. A document ordering Megahed to appear in immigration court said he was being deported based on the circumstances that resulted in the federal charges, said his attorney, Adam Allen. Megahed is being held pending a hearing that has yet to be scheduled. ‘This sure looks and feels like some sort of ‘double jeopardy’ even if it doesn’t precisely fit the legal definition of that prohibited practice,’ the jurors said in a statement. ‘More troublesome is the government’s seeming blatant disregard for the will of its own people.’ The statement was issued by foreman Gary Meringer and jurors Stephen Short, Sandy Cleland and Brenda Kumpf. Other jurors didn’t respond to Meringer’s e-mail, he said. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Ivan L. Ortiz-Delgado said in an e-mail that the immigration charges Megahed faces ‘differ significantly from those charged in his criminal case.’ He didn’t provide details, citing privacy laws. Megahed is a legal permanent resident who moved to the United States with his family when he was 11. His father said the family likely will move back to Egypt together if he is deported. The former student, who is one class shy of an engineering degree at the University of South Florida, was arrested with a fellow Egyptian national during a traffic stop near Charleston, S.C., in August 2007. Prosecutors claimed the lengths of PVC pipe packed with a common homemade explosives mixture found in the trunk of their car could have been used to build a destructive device. Allen argued the items were engines for homemade model rockets that were put into the car without Megahed’s knowledge prior to an innocent college road trip to the Carolina beaches. The jury deliberated about 22 hours over four days after the three-week trial. In a written summary of the deliberations e-mailed to The Associated Press, Meringer said at least two of the jurors initially thought Megahed was guilty, but eventually agreed that prosecutors failed to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury didn’t hear details about the apparent terrorist leanings of Megahed’s older companion and fellow USF student, Ahmed Mohamed. Mohamed, 27, pleaded guilty in December to providing material support to terrorists by making a YouTube video that demonstrated how to convert a remote-controlled car into a bomb detonator. He spoke in Arabic on the video, saying he wanted to teach ‘martyrdoms’ and ‘suiciders’ how to save themselves so they can continue to fight invaders, including U.S. soldiers. Megahed was not charged in connection with the video. A judge ruled it was irrelevant and could not be used as evidence against him at trial. Meringer said knowledge of the Mohamed video wouldn’t have swayed him because prosecutors couldn’t show the young men had planned to commit a crime.