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February 12, 2014

Feds: Bomb suspect a threat

PITTSBURGH — A Russian-born college student accused of building bombs in his Blair County apartment should remain in jail while he awaits trial, federal prosecutors argued Wednesday.

Prosecutors contend Vladislav Miftakhov, 18, a Penn State-Altoona student who has been jailed since his arrest on Jan. 24, remains a danger to the community and a risk to flee prosecution if he’s allowed to move back to his family’s San Carlos, Calif., home until trial.

At a hearing Monday, a federal magistrate agreed with Miftakhov’s public defender that the bomb-making charges, though serious, involve explosives that Miftakhov apparently detonated for kicks and weren’t meant to harm others.

As a result, U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Pesto said he thought Miftakhov should be released from jail, though he held off issuing a release order to give prosecutors time to file Wednesday’s appeal.  In it, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jimmy Kitchen asked that Miftakhov remain incarcerated until a U.S. District Court judge can review the issue from scratch.

Among other arguments, Kitchen contends that Miftakhov, who turned 18 in November, is on probation for juvenile court burglary-related charges in California, uses drugs, and has too few ties to Pennsylvania to guarantee he won’t flee.

Public defender Christopher Brown, who may still file a response to Kitchen’s appeal, declined comment.

Miftakhov is a Russian citizen but has a U.S. permanent resident card and lived in Altoona for about six months before his arrest, according to the appeal.

He was initially arrested by local police on drug and explosives charges, after officers searched his bedroom in the apartment he shared with two others. The landlord told police he believed there was marijuana growing in the unit. Police found the pot plants, but also found a suitcase full of empty carbon-dioxide canisters and chemicals which police and the FBI contend Miftakhov admitted using to make explosives.

Kitchen argued that Miftakhov should remain jailed because his story about why he built the bombs changed.

“Miftakhov initially stated that he was making ‘model rockets’ and ‘fireworks,’ ” Kitchen wrote. Investigators said Miftakhov eventually acknowledged making explosives to “blow things up” – though he didn’t specify what – once they confronted him with the metal canisters.

Miftakhov told investigators he had never detonated any homemade devices in Pennsylvania, though he acknowledged doing so in California, but authorities say one of his roommates contradicted that.

That witness told authorities he was with Miftakhov when he blew up two of three smaller bombs in a field. Those devices each contained just three grams of a homemade flash powder and caused a 10-foot blast radius when they were detonated, Kitchen said.

Investigators found another device containing 200 grams of powder – or about 66 times that of the exploded bombs – that was never detonated.

Prosecutors also remain concerned because they found a note – signed by Miftakhov and marked with the circled “A” symbol used by anarchists – rolled up in a bullet casing. The note read, “If you find this, you will never find me.”

Brown, the public defender, argued at Monday’s hearing that Miftakhov did nothing unusual for a young adult male. “Call me old, but this is what boys do,” Brown said.

Pesto agreed, dismissing concerns about Miftakhov’s Russian background and referencing the nationality of the Boston marathon bombing suspects by saying, “I don’t think we have another marathon bombing.”

Juvenile court records in California are generally not public. The San Mateo (Calif.) County district attorney’s office did not immediately return a call for comment on whether Miftakhov’s federal charges have violated his probation in that state.

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