Parents Want Justice For Son After Arrest

Published: December 15, 2007

TAMPA – Hamou Moussaoui and Anissa Zekkari came to the United States from Morocco on Wednesday, proud parents, eagerly anticipating their son’s graduation from the University of South Florida with three degrees.

On Thursday morning, their world turned upside down. They were thrust, they said, into hell.

“Instead of having an engineer, we have a prisoner,” Hamou Moussaoui said Friday. He said he feels the $300,000 he spent on his son’s education slipping through his fingers.

His son, Karim, 28, was arrested, charged under what his attorney says is a little-used law that makes it a federal crime for someone in this country on a student visa to possess a firearm. The charge – punishable by up to 10 years in prison – arose from a visit to a Tampa firing range authorities say Karim Moussaoui made in July with friends who were later arrested.

The friends, Youssef Megahed and Ahmed Mohamed, both Egyptian nationals, were charged in August with transporting explosives after their car was pulled over in South Carolina. Mohamed also was accused of trying to help terrorists by posting a video on YouTube in which he demonstrated how to use a remote-controlled toy to detonate a bomb.

For the Moussaoui family, association with that case and media stories linking Karim to explosives are horrifying.

All he did was pose for a picture with an unloaded gun, they say. “A souvenir picture turned out to be a crime,” said Zekkari, speaking through an interpreter hired by The Tampa Tribune. She said she fainted when she heard of her son’s arrest, and has not slept since.

Karim Moussaoui, smiling confidently about 24 hours after his release from federal custody, said he’s not worried about what’s going to happen to him. “I’m definitely confident justice will take place,” he said, “since I only took a little souvenir, since we don’t have guns in our country, and I have the best lawyer in Tampa, Mr. Stephen Crawford.”

He said he was up late Wednesday night studying for his last exam. He finally crawled into bed at 4 a.m. to rest up before the test, scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday.

At 6 a.m., he said, 10 FBI agents knocked on his door. They put guns to his roommates’ heads, but not to his.

“They got me some clothes, sneakers and a shirt,” he said. “It was a peaceful arrest. I had no clue what was going on … They just took me out.”

He said he was taken to the federal courthouse downtown, fingerprinted, photographed and otherwise processed. He was interviewed by a probation officer about his background. Then his attorney, Crawford, showed up.

“I feel I was being treated as subhuman, since they have animal rights,” Karim Moussaoui said. “I felt criminalized without being a criminal.”

Family Expects Justice To Be Served

The family was interviewed in Crawford’s office Friday afternoon. Under the attorney’s direction, they would not discuss the specifics of the charges.

Like their son, however, the parents said they trust the right thing will happen. “We’re always optimistic,” Zekkari said. “Our son didn’t do anything wrong.”

“There is justice,” Hamou Moussaoui said. “We’re in a country of justice and democracy.”

Karim Moussaoui had planned on returning to Morocco to take over his father’s business after his graduation today, but now he is being forced to remain in Florida until his legal case is decided.

About to lose the right to live in his dorm room, he must find an apartment with a telephone so federal probation officers can monitor his whereabouts and he can be fitted with an electronic ankle bracelet.

Two of his three degrees are in jeopardy, he said; he is negotiating with the university about making up the missed exam. “I missed a final in a class where I have all 100s,” he said.

Without the exam, he will get a D, which will keep him from getting two degrees, he said. It would be “the one D in my life.”

He said his degrees in computer science and computer information systems are in jeopardy, but he expects he will graduate with at least a degree in computer engineering.

His parents had planned to leave Sunday. Now they’re unsure what they will do. Probably, they said, one of them will remain behind while the other returns home.

The family business, Cabinet D’ Expertises Hamou Moussaoui, provides engineering expertise and consulting on construction and testifying in court. Hamou Moussaoui said he built the business from nothing more than 25 years and now has 12 experts who work in Casablanca, Marrakesh, England and Senegal.

They live comfortably in Casablanca with a villa and a 3 1/2 -acre farm, they said. Zekkari works as a schools inspector, stressing the importance of education to their children, who also include two daughters.

Zekkari said she’s involved with an organization called “Morocco Feminists International,” which defends women against violence.

‘He Has Nothing To Do With It’

In addition to education, the parents said, they stressed “good behavior” to their son. “General respect, politeness” were the values passed on.

They said Karim loves the United States and pushed to come here to study.

“He doesn’t like when other people say bad things about America,” Hamou Moussaoui said of his son.

He said Karim calls the U.S. Constitution an example to the world. In America, he said, “everything is spacious” and people have “a beautiful life.”

Hamou Moussaoui said his son never left his side growing up. “I wanted to teach him the right way.”

The parents said they learned of their son’s arrest when two FBI agents came to their hotel Wednesday morning.

“I felt paralyzed,” Hamou Moussaoui said. “I couldn’t move.”

The couple didn’t know where to go, what to do. They didn’t even have a rental car. They called Crawford, who they said calmed them down, assuring them he would do his best to have their son released that day.

None of this makes any sense, they said.

“My son doesn’t talk about politics,” Hamou Moussaoui said. “Politics doesn’t do anything for him. Terrorism – he has nothing to do with it. He has one goal – his education and being successful.”

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