TAMPA, Fla. – An Egyptian student attending a Florida university was sentenced to 15 years in prison Thursday for making a YouTube video showing would-be terrorists how to turn a remote-control toy into a bomb detonator.
U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday said the public needed to be protected from 27-year-old Ahmed Abdellatif Sherif Mohamed, who made the video "to empower others through his teaching to deliver death, destruction and, at the very least, panic."
Merryday handed the maximum sentence to the former University of South Florida graduate student, brushing aside his attorneys' pleas for leniency and the minimum eight-year sentence.
"This is an intelligent man who made a very bad mistake," one his attorneys, Linda Moreno, said afterward. "This is a sad day."
A. Brian Albritton, U.S. attorney for Florida's middle district, said prosecutors were satisfied that Mohamed got the maximum sentence.
As part of a plea agreement, Mohamed pleaded guilty in June to providing material support to terrorism.
The video was found on a laptop computer in the car he was driving when pulled over near Charleston, S.C., in August 2007. Prosecutor Robert Monk said the 12-minute clip got nearly 800 hits before it was removed from the video-sharing site, but there was no evidence that anyone used it to do harm.
In the video, Mohamed demonstrates how to convert a remote-controlled car from Wal-Mart into a bomb detonator. He speaks in Arabic, saying he wants to teach "martyrdoms" and "suiciders" how to save themselves so they can continue to fight invaders, including U.S. soldiers.
"Instead of the brethren going to, to carry out martyrdom operations, no, may God bless him, he can use the explosion tools from a distance and preserve his life ... for the real battles," he says, according to a translation in the plea agreement.
During the nearly six-hour hearing, Monk painted Mohamed as a radical Muslim who hates America and "embraces a violent and extreme ideology." His attorneys acknowledged that he was a young student with unpopular political views who made a stupid mistake, but noted that he never hurt anyone.
Mohamed and fellow Egyptian student Youssef Samir Megahed were arrested after deputies in Goose Creek, S.C., found what they described as explosives in the trunk. Mohamed claimed they were ingredients for homemade fireworks he planned to shoot off on his birthday.
Deputies also found the laptop with the video and other files containing videos of rockets and exploding American military vehicles.
The arrests perpetuated the University of South Florida's reputation as "Jihad U," a nickname coined after an Egyptian professor, Sami Al-Arian, was charged with raising money for terrorist attacks by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. He ended up pleading guilty to one count of aiding terrorists and agreed to deportation.
Megahed is awaiting trial on federal charges of transporting explosives and possession of a destructive device. The 22-year-old was not charged in connection with the video and says he didn't know anything about the items in the trunk.
Explosives charges against Mohamed were dropped as part of the plea agreement.
Prosecutors have not produced any evidence showing the men planned illegal activity on the trip. The men said they ended up near a naval weapons station looking for cheap gas at a Wal-Mart station.