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February 10, 2014

Russian heading to federal court

JOHNSTOWN — A Russian-born Penn State-Altoona student will go to trial in federal court after being charged with possessing an unregistered destructive device.

Evidence was presented against Vladislav Miftakhov on Monday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Pesto in downtown Johnstown.

U.S. Attorney James Kitchen said Miftakhov, 18, possessed atomized magnesium, potassium perchlorate, fuses and compressed gas cartridges at his apartment in the 100 block of North Ninth Avenue in Altoona.

“I don’t have any hesitation holding him to court,” Pesto said  during the preliminary hearing.

Pesto also ruled that Miftakhov could return home to California while he awaits trial. However, Kitchen said federal officials plan to appeal the decision, so the accused remained in custody after the hearing. Kitchen described Miftakhov, who is reportedly on probation in California, as a danger to others with weak ties to the region, having moved to Pennsylvania only last year.

Miftakhov is not a U.S. citizen, but is a lawful permanent resident.

“He does not have severe ties to this country,” Kitchen said during the hearing.

Defense attorney Chris Brown countered, saying, “The fact that he’s Russian should be of no import in this case.”

Altoona police first went to the apartment Miftakhov shared with roommates after receiving a report he was growing marijuana. Officers then found the alleged bombs and bomb-making materials, along with a can of Static Guard, believed to keep the materials from combusting due to a static charge.

Police discovered a note, allegedly signed by the accused, which stated, “if you find this, you will never find me,” rolled up and stored inside a bullet casing.

There also was the letter “A” with a circle around it drawn on the paper.

“It can represent anarchist symbolism,” said Ben Cornali, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Miftakhov originally said the items were used to make bottle rockets and fireworks, according to Cornali. When told the materials were not consistent with producing fireworks, Miftakhov claimed he intended to blow things up, according to police.

“He didn’t say if it was a watermelon versus a car with somebody in it,” said Brown.

Cornali testified that a witness saw Miftakhov set off explosive devices, only blowing up ground in the process.

Brown tried to portray the actions as boys-will-be-boys mischief.

“Call me old, but this is what boys do,” Brown said.

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Dave_Sutor.

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