TAMPA – A federal grand jury in Tampa is asking for DNA and hair samples from a University of South Florida student jailed four weeks ago in South Carolina on explosives charges, his attorney said.
Andrew Savage said in a phone interview Wednesday night that he had no indication why the samples were being sought from his client, Youssef Megahed.
The news came as the grand jury heard testimony Wednesday from people who have connections to Megahed and Ahmed Mohamed, another USF student arrested at the same time.
Accompanied by attorneys, at least three people entered the grand jury area of the U.S. District courthouse on North Florida Avenue in downtown Tampa. They were the owner of a home where Mohamed planned to rent a room, the landlord’s son and a Muslim community spokesman. All three later declined to comment to a reporter.
Megahed and Mohamed, were pulled over for speeding in South Carolina on Aug. 4 about seven miles from the Goose Creek Naval Weapons Station, which houses a military prison for enemy combatants.
The men were charged with possession of an incendiary or explosive device, based in part on items found in the trunk of their car, authorities said. Mohamed said they were carrying fireworks.
One week later, on Aug. 11, the FBI searched a home at 12402 Pampas Place in Tampa that is owned by Noor and Ana Salhab. Authorities said the search was related to the case involving the students.
Noor Salhab later told reporters that his son, Ghassan, has been living in the home and that he has been renting to college students while waiting to sell it. Noor Salhab said a friend of Mohamed’s rented a room there, and Mohamed planned to move in on Aug. 7.
Noor and Ghassan Salhab, with attorney Brooke Elvington, spent about an hour in the grand jury area Wednesday. Neither would talk to a reporter.
Grand juries meet in secret by law. It was not known what questions were asked. At the end of the day, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Hoffer gave U.S. Magistrate Thomas Wilson a report from the grand jury, which the judge promptly sealed. Hoffer later declined to comment.
After the Pampas Place house was searched this month, Noor Salhab told reporters that the FBI seized a number of items, including a gas tank for a lawn mower, a telephone, his son’s computer and some pipe.
Muslim Think Tank Used House
Federal court records show that Salhab leased the house in the early 1990s to World and Islam Studies Enterprise, a think tank run by Sami Al-Arian, the former USF professor accused of funding Palestinian terrorist organizations.
Elvington said she represented one of the Salhabs but did not specify which one. She formerly represented Ghassan Ballut, one of Al-Arian’s co-defendants, on terrorism-related charges. Ballut was cleared after a trial in which jurors deadlocked on some charges against Al-Arian and acquitted him on others.
Also appearing before the grand jury Wednesday was Ahmed Bedier, who has been a spokesman for the Megahed family. Bedier is executive director of the Tampa chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations and a frequent media spokesman for Muslims and Islamic causes.
He was accompanied by attorney Lyann Goudie and appeared to be in the grand jury area for about an hour.
Bedier declined to answer questions about his testimony, saying he wanted to check with the national headquarters of CAIR about what he was allowed to say.
‘Present The Evidence’
Bedier has called for fairness in the investigation of the students. He has stopped short of vouching for them.
The students are being held in a South Carolina jail. Bail is set for Mohamed at $500,000, and for Megahed at $300,000. A preliminary hearing on the explosives charges is set for Sept. 21.
“We’re not faulting the police for doing their work,” Bedier said at one point. “If someone is speeding and acting suspicious, by all means they should look into it.”
He added, referring to the students’ car, that “the best way to bring resolution to this is to present the evidence that was seized in that trunk. “¦ Evidence does not lie.”