TAMPA, Fla. – Egypt's government is paying for the legal representation of a college student who authorities say was found with pipe bombs near a Navy base, an attorney said Wednesday.
Attorney John Fitzgibbons told a judge he was in talks with the Egyptian embassy in Washington and likely will be hired to represent suspended University of South Florida student Ahmed Abdellatif Sherif Mohamed.
Ahmed el-Qawassni, an official in Egypt's foreign ministry, said the government is closely monitoring the case and confirmed that an attorney is being hired for Mohamed, who was born in Kuwait to Egyptian parents.
"We are responsible for the sons of Egypt abroad with no exception," el-Qawassni said.
Mohamed, 24, and another USF student, Youssef Samir Megahed, 21, are charged with carrying explosive materials across state lines.
Mohamed also is charged with distributing information relating to explosives, destructive devices and weapons of mass destruction. Authorities allege he made an Internet video showing how to use remote-controlled toys to detonate terrorist bombs.
Megahed, represented by a federal public defender, pleaded not guilty Wednesday. Fitzgibbons said during the brief hearing Wednesday that Mohamed will plead not guilty when he is arraigned Oct. 17.
Megahed, a permanent U.S. resident from Egypt, and Mohamed, who is in the U.S. on a student visa, were arrested during an Aug. 5 traffic stop in Goose Creek, S.C., about 15 miles northwest of Charleston. In the trunk of the car, according an FBI agent's statement, police found 20 feet of fuse, a box of .22-caliber bullets, a drill, several gallons of gasoline, PVC piping and gun powder.
The students told authorities they were carrying fireworks, and that they had been driving near a naval weapons station because they had been looking for cheap gas. Megahed's attorney now contends that he didn't know anything about the items in the trunk.
On Mohamed's laptop, according to the FBI agent's statement, was a video Mohamed made demonstrating how to convert a remote-control toy into a detonator for explosives.
Mohamed told authorities he made the video "to assist those persons in Arabic countries to defend themselves against the infidels invading their countries," and that he considered American troops to invaders, according to the agent's statement.
The video was uploaded to YouTube, according to court documents, but it was not clear whether it was ever publicly viewed.
After the hearing, Fitzgibbons said he had not seen all the evidence and declined to discuss the case.
"There's always two sides to every story, and I already see a different side to the story than what's been presented," he said.
If convicted, Megahed faces up to 10 years in prison. Mohamed could be sentenced to up to 30 years if convicted. A trial is set for December, but Fitzgibbons said it probably won't happen that soon.
Fitzgibbons is best known as the attorney who represented teacher Debra Lafave after she had sex with a 14-year-old middle-school student. Lafave ended up pleading guilty and was sentenced to three years' house arrest and seven years' probation.