Penn State Altoona bomb suspect facing federal charges

The Penn State Altoona engineering student facing state charges for possessing a bomb is now being targeted by federal authorities.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Vladislav Miftakhov, 18, is having federal charges filed against him for “making and possessing a destructive device.”

Miftakhov’s case was initially in state court, but local prosecutors said Thursday those charges will be dropped now that federal authorities have filed charges.

Miftakhov, a Russian national with ties to San Francisco, was arrested by Altoona police Jan. 24. An investigation of a marijuana-growing operation expanded when police found a bomb and related materials in addition to the drugs. The suspect told police that he had obtained the bomb-making equipment on the Internet.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania and the FBI’s Pittsburgh office were looking into the case.

At a Thursday news conference in Johnstown, U.S. Attorney David Hickton and FBI Special Agent in Charge Gary Douglas Perdue announced the new federal charges: possessing and making an unregistered destructive device in violation of federal law.

“These chemicals can be used to create explosive devices but mixed together they can be set off even by static electricity,” Hickton said. “There’s a very good reason why they’re required to be registered under the facts we’ve charged him under.”

On Wednesday, Miftakhov’s preliminary hearing was continued at his attorney’s request. It was rescheduled for Feb. 18. He remains incarcerated at Blair County Prison with bail set at $500,000.

After that proceeding, Miftakhov’s attorney, Robert Donaldson, told the Altoona Mirror newspaper that his client comes from a good family and has no criminal record.

“Once the facts come out, people will see a different side of this,” he said.

According to the federal charges, Miftakhov ordered potassium perchlorate and magnesium online, then mixed the chemicals and put them into the empty carbon dioxide cartridges.

Those “explosive precursor chemicals” can be used to create a bomb that is “extremely sensitive to impact, friction, static spark and heat,” the complaint said.

But according to the complaint — and Miftakhov’s previous statements to Altoona police — it’s unclear what he planned to do with the devices.

“Miftakhov stated his intent was to set the devices off in a remote field and did not intend on ‘blowing anything up,’ ” Altoona police said in their criminal complaint, adding that Miftakhov was too afraid to detonate the largest device he made. On another occasion, according to both the police and ATF complaints, however, Miftakhov said he planned to use the devices to “blow things up” but authorities haven’t said if he was more specific than that.

Hickton said federal authorities were concerned about the public safety threat and because investigators also found a note rolled up into an empty .44-caliber shell casing that said, “If you find this, you will never find me” that was signed by Miftakhov.

The federal complaint quotes a person identified only by the initials “A.L.” who said he went with Miftakhov when the suspect detonated two of three devices in a field. According to the ATF, those devices each contained about 1.5 grams of the chemical mixture “and made a large and loud explosion which surprised A.L.” The duo left the field before blowing up the third device because neighbors were coming out of their homes due to the noise.

Authorities found the unexploded third device and a much larger one, containing approximately 200 grams of chemicals, in Miftakhov’s room. The witness told investigators he had refused to accompany Miftakhov when he was asked to join him in detonating it.

Altoona police had previously identified Andrew Leff, Miftakhov’s roommate, as the person who accompanied him. Leff has previously told reporters he believes Miftakhov was bored and impulsive, but not dangerous.