By Bruce Smith
The Associated Press
MONCKS CORNER, S.C. — Two Middle Eastern men arrested near a Navy base after police found a suspicious item in their car were charged Monday with possession of an incendiary device, authorities said.
A joint state-federal investigation was under way to see if there was any terrorism connection but no link had been found yet, said FBI spokeswoman Denise Taiste. The Navy base is the site of a brig where enemy combatants have been held.
Ahmed Abda Sherf Mohamed, 24, and Yousef Samir Megahed, 21, both students at the University of South Florida in Tampa, were being held Monday pending a bail hearing, Berkeley County Sheriff Wayne DeWitt said.
Mohamed is a native of Kuwait and Megahed is Egyptian, the sheriff said. Both are in the country legally, DeWitt said.
"They admitted to having what they said were fireworks. Based on the officer's judgment at hand, based on what he had seen, we judged it to be other than fireworks," DeWitt said.
The sheriff refused to say what was found in the car but said some items were being analyzed by the FBI. Taiste would not give any details on what was in the vehicle.
Ahmed Bedier, the executive director of a civil rights organization for Muslims in Tampa, criticized the arrest as racial profiling, an accusation South Carolina police refuted.
"Definitely this is not related to terrorism," said Bedier, of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
"Had these been two good ol' boys from South Carolina driving through and speeding — and even if they did have some fireworks — nobody would have been arrested," Bedier said.
The two men were stopped for speeding Saturday night near Goose Creek on U.S. Highway 176.
Goose Creek is the site of the Naval Weapons Station, which houses the U.S. Naval Consolidated Brig, a military prison where enemy combatants have been held. They were heading west, away from Goose Creek, when they were pulled over about seven miles from the sprawling Navy facility, police said.
Officers became suspicious because the men quickly put away a laptop computer and couldn't immediately say what they were doing in the area or where they were going, DeWitt said.
One item found in the car was destroyed by bomb technicians, making a loud bang when it was detonated.
"I would not know how to describe that item," the sheriff said. "We merely know it was an explosive device. There were several items built in that same fashion which were retrieved from the vehicle."
Authorities closed a mile-long stretch of the highway Saturday night and didn't reopen it until about 4 a.m. Sunday.
University spokesman Ken Gullette said Mohamed is a civil engineering graduate student who came to the school in January. He earned his undergraduate degree in Cairo and was in the country on a student visa.
Megahed, an Egyptian who has permanent resident status in the United States, is an undergraduate and has been at the university since 2004, but has not declared a major, Gullette said.
Neither has ever been arrested by campus police or disciplined by the university, Gullette said. Both were enrolled in classes this summer. Gullette said the university is cooperating with authorities.
If convicted of the felony charge, the men would face from two to 15 years in prison.
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Goose Creek, with a population of about 30,000, is about 20 miles north of Charleston.