Samir Megahed planned to take his oath as an American citizen Friday with an odd mix of pride and pain, knowing his adopted country considers his son a terrorist and is trying to deport him.
Megahed, a 62-year-old Egyptian, expected that his son Youssef would be standing to take the oath with him and other family members at the Tampa Convention Center.
Instead, 23-year-old Youssef Megahed waits in a South Florida jail to see if he'll be deported — even though a federal jury acquitted him on all criminal charges and some of the jurors say he shouldn't be made to leave the country. His immigration trial begins Monday in Miami.
"I'm deeply saddened that Youssef is not with us," Samir Megahed said this week at the family's comfortable north Tampa town house. "He fulfilled the obligation for citizenship with us."
In August 2007, two weeks after applying for U.S. citizenship, Youssef Megahed was arrested along with a fellow University of South Florida engineering student not far from a military base in rural South Carolina.
Both are Egyptian and dark-skinned. They acted nervously. And they had some homemade model rocket parts in the trunk that looked like pipe bombs to the deputies who stopped them for speeding.
Charged with possessing explosives
Authorities thought they had found a couple of fledgling terrorists and charged them with possessing explosives that could be fashioned into a destructive device. There was no evidence that the two, who said they were on a road trip to see the Carolina beaches, planned a crime.
A federal jury acquitted Megahed on April 4 at the end of a three-week trial. Three days later, as Megahed and his father left a Tampa Wal-Mart, immigration authorities arrived and seized him.
Megahed has said he didn't know anything about the items in the trunk, which trial witnesses described as low-grade explosives used to power model rocket engines.
More troublesome for Megahed now, though, is being associated with Ahmed Mohamed, the USF student who was his traveling companion on the Carolina road trip.
Based on what authorities found on Mohamed's laptop computer in the car, he clearly sympathized with Palestinian terrorists. Stored on the hard drive was a video he made demonstrating how to convert a remote-controlled toy car into a bomb detonator.
Acquaintance tutored 'martyrdom'
During the tutorial, which he posted on YouTube, Mohamed said he wanted to teach "martyrdoms" and "suiciders" how to save themselves so they can continue to fight invaders, including U.S. soldiers. Mohamed pleaded guilty to providing material support to terrorists and was sentenced to 15 years in prison in December.
Megahed claimed he had never seen the video and was not charged in connection with it. The jurors in his trial weren't allowed to hear about it, although jury foreman Gary Meringer said some of them probably knew about it.
Meringer and other jurors have spoken out against the effort to deport Megahed, saying it discounts the work they did in considering the evidence and finding that he did not commit any crimes.
Meringer said he sent a note to Samir Megahed congratulating him on attaining U.S. citizenship.
"I'm delighted the rest of the family is being treated fairly," Meringer said. "(The government) could have concluded that they were all terrorists."
Ivan L. Ortiz-Delgado, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Friday that Youssef Megahed's criminal charges and deportation proceedings have nothing to do with his family members becoming U.S. citizens. He declined to comment further.
Samir Megahed moved his family to the United States from Cairo in 1998 for better educational opportunities. Despite what has happened to his son, he has never wavered in his desire to be an American citizen. Taking the oath of citizenship with him were his wife, Ahlam, 55, and oldest son, Yahia, 26, who graduated from USF in 2004 with a degree in computer science.
"I came for the future of my sons," Samir Megahed said. "They can find a good life, good people."
Having come so close to that goal, Megahed said he will abandon it and accompany his son back to Egypt if the U.S. deports him. Youssef Megahed has lived in the United States since he was 11 and has never been back. The Megaheds have no family there now.
"He is my son, and I must follow my son," Samir Megahed said. "But we will fight to the end to let him stay here. And he will win. He didn't do anything wrong."