Pittsburgh's federal prosecutor said investigators are still trying to determine Vladislav Miftakhov's intentions, but said the charges were warranted because of the public safety risk the devices posed, even if the 18-year-old Penn State-Altoona student's intentions were benign.
"These chemicals can be used to create explosive devices but mixed together they can be set off even by static electricity," U.S. Attorney David Hickton told The Associated Press. "There's a very good reason why they're required to be registered under the facts we've charged him under."
Miftakhov's attorney did not immediately return a call for comment on the charges filed by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Miftakhov, who previously lived in San Carlos, Calif., was arrested Jan. 24 after Altoona police, acting on a tip from his landlord, said they found marijuana-growing supplies and bomb-making materials in Miftakhov's rented room near the Penn State-Altoona campus, about 85 miles east of Pittsburgh.
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.
A district judge on Wednesday had refused to lower Miftakhov's bond on the state charges. 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.
"This was not just an isolated event, it was multiple events, and then there was the note in the bullet casing," Hickton said. "These products, if you read about them, have dangerous propensities."
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.