On his first work day as the nation's No. 2 prosecutor, Craig Morford was briefed about the arrest the day before of two Florida college students in Berkeley County on explosives charges.
"We weren't sure what that meant, but we were going to be continuing to look at it," recalled the acting U.S. deputy attorney general.
As it turned out, the Aug. 4 arrests of Ahmed Abdellatif Sherif Mohamed and Youssef Samir Megahed would be linked to possible terrorist activities, according to federal authorities.
Morford, a 20-year veteran prosecutor of organized crime, public corruption and white-collar fraud, was in Columbia on Friday visiting with local federal prosecutors, FBI agents and others.
In an interview with The State, Morford talked about the mission of the U.S. Department of Justice after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
He declined to discuss specifics of the case against Mohamed and Megahed, including whether federal investigators believe the pair acted alone or are possibly part of a larger organization.
But he praised the Berkeley County sheriff's deputies who stopped the Egyptian men's car for speeding on S.C. 176 in Goose Creek. The students from the Tampa-based University of South Florida told the deputies they were heading to North Carolina for a vacation; the deputies said they became suspicious after seeing one of the men disconnect some wires from a laptop computer.
"What you saw play out in Goose Creek, South Carolina, is exactly how it has to work," Morford said. "The challenge to us is we have to get a network spread across this country that includes every town, every city, every county and every state."
Authorities said they found four PVC pipes containing a mixture of cat litter, a sugary substance and potassium nitrate, a component of black powder.
In a video found on Mohamed's laptop that also was posted on YouTube, Mohamed explains in Arabic how to turn a toy boat into a bomb, according to federal court documents.
He told FBI agents he wanted to teach "those persons in Arabic countries to defend themselves against the infidels invading their countries," court documents said.
Both men face federal charges of transporting explosive materials. Mohamed also is charged with teaching and demonstrating the making and use of an explosive device which has been interpreted as a violation of federal law that prohibits giving support to terrorist organizations.
Prosecutors, though, have filed no court documents connecting either man with any terrorist group.
Morford said he starts every work day in a 7:30 a.m. meeting with his boss, the FBI director and CIA personnel to review the latest terrorism intelligence worldwide over the past 24 hours.
"It is a very sobering way to start the day."
He said what makes him a "little nervous" these days is the belief by some that the Department of Justice should concentrate more on other crimes.
"Suddenly we're getting this chorus of saying ... 'Maybe we're doing too much with terrorism.' Do we have a good sense that these folks aren't going away? They're persistent; they're patient; and the question is, are we as persistent and patient as they are?"