Prosecutors believe that Mahmoud Maawad, an Egyptian student at the University of Memphis arrested last year by the Joint Terrorism Task Force, was planning or participating in a potential terror attack inside the United States, the Flyer has learned.
The latest disclosures in Maawad's case are contained in a February 16th letter from assistant U.S. attorney Steve Parker to Maawad's court-appointed counsel. Maawad, who was living illegally in the U.S. for six years with a bogus Social Security number, has been held without bond since he was arrested. Federal agents have searched his computer hard drive and examined his e-mails, college records, chatroom discussions, and Western Union transfers.
Their conclusion: Maawad, whose e-mail sign-on was pilot747, "was linking to Web sites that are associated with Ansar Al-Islam, a radical Sunni Muslim organization in Iraq led by Abu Musab al-Zarquawi. Many news reports refer to Mr. Zarquawi as leading the Al-Queda group in Iraq."
Maawad was living in an apartment on Mynders near the U of M campus which was furnished with little more than a bedroll, desk, and computer he used to order $3,300 worth of pilot gear over the Internet. He ordered a DVD titled How an Airline Captain Should Look and Act and a map of the Memphis airport terminal, even though he is not a pilot. He also purchased a private-pilot course, flight-simulation software, and instructional programs on "airplane talk" from Sporty's Pilot Shop, an online retailer.
The government has indicated it plans to introduce evidence that will show Maawad's motivation for buying flight material.
"The computer indicates that the defendant was entering searches on the Yahoo search engine that indicate that he was attempting to investigate how guns and bombs could be smuggled through airports' magnetometers," according to documents the Flyer has viewed. "There are also remnants in defendant's computer indicating he had entered a search using the term 'car bomb.' Additionally, [Maawad] made specific searches seeking to purchase commercial flight uniforms."
Most disturbing, though, was Maawad's participation in an Internet chatroom that starts with a posting thanking Allah "for all your Jihad" and stating that the only legitimate regimes in Arab states are Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. The posting says Iraq is standing alone in the face of "zionist-crusader aggression" and the "fierce aggression from the supposedly Arab brothers."
A posting by Maawad, identified as an engineering student in the United States, states, "i [sic] union with you and i [sic] completely agree."
If the case goes to trial, the government also plans to introduce as evidence e-mails between Maawad and the Transportation Security Administration in which he is denied permission to undertake flight training. The government says Maawad was angered by this and stated "he would violate the law."
Maawad worked for cash at a convenience store on Chelsea in North Memphis. He was cited last March for selling liquor to a minor. He told authorities his bogus Social Security number was issued to him in 1998 in New Jersey. He entered the U.S. at New York City from Egypt in 1998, and his visitor's visa expired in 1999. He lived in Olive Branch, Mississippi, for an unknown length of time before moving to the address near the U of M campus last summer.
Maawad's case is one of two Joint Terrorism Task Force cases in Memphis involving Muslims in Memphis. The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Tennessee has said that anti-terrorism is its top priority. The other case involves Rafat Mawlawi, a U.S. citizen with dual citizenship in Syria. He was arrested last April after federal agents searched his home and found illegal guns and jihadist videos. He pleaded guilty in January to weapons and immigration charges and is being held pending sentencing.