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17 October 2014, 16:38
A Newcastle University student has been jailed for two years following two bomb scares at the university in June.
19 year old Vladimir Aust, created volatile HMTD using simple ingredients he bought online - and stored it in the bedroom of the seven-storey halls of residence where he lived in Newcastle.
He was sentenced at Newcastle Crown Court this afternoon.
The halls, which are home to 112 students, had to be evacuated in June and disruption was caused to the city centre.
Aust, who was raised in Moscow and whose family live in Latvia, was taking a foundation course at Newcastle University with a view to enrolling in an economics degree when he started to make and detonate explosives, sometimes in view of fellow students and the halls' security cameras.
He admitted one count of making an explosive substance at a hearing last month and he was sentenced via a videolink to HMP Pentonville where he has been held.
Looking pale in a white T-shirt and with a floppy fringe, Aust spoke to the clerk in a strong Russian accent.
The court heard that he mixed chemicals, sometimes in communal areas of the halls, while reading from his laptop. He watched videos on how to make HMTD and accessed the Anarchist's Cookbook online.
At least four times he detonated the chemicals he mixed, causing small explosions.
On one occasion he caused a fire alarm to go off and the building was evacuated.
The university authorities did not fully investigate his room after the explosion, which he said was caused by lighting matches.
But when a member of the estates team found a table embedded with knives, Aust admitted he had caused the damage and his room was searched.
Separate chemicals were found, as well as quantities he had mixed to make HMTD powder which he stored in plastic boxes in his wardrobe just three feet from his bed.
They found switches, crocodile clips, bulbs and a battery which could be used to make a detonator. They also discovered lead shot and gypsum.
The army was called in to make the substances safe and a controlled explosion took place.
Police checked Aust's laptop and found hundreds of comments on VK, one of which said one of the explosions had deafened him in one ear.
Richard Horwell QC claimed the racist language was in reference to a popular film called Iron Sky, and "it had nothing whatsoever to do with this case''.
He said Aust was popular, not a loner, and like many 18-year-olds, had a curiosity about pyrotechnics, but was not obsessed with explosions.
He wanted to join the Territorial Army but was barred as a foreign national, had a number of varied interests, and had become "fond'' of Britain.
"He never intended to do any harm.
That is the last thing that he would have wanted.''
Mr Justice Coulson said he received credit for his age, his remorse, his previous good character and his early guilty plea.
He said HMTD was "highly popular with terrorists'', adding it was their "explosive of choice'' and that sentences passed on those who manufactured it needed to be a deterrent.
He said the other aggravating factors were the prolonged period of time over which he made the substance, between February and June, that he had detonated it at least four times, and that others in the halls had been put at risk.
The judge decided that Aust was not part of a wider terror group.
After the hearing, Detective Chief Superintendent Ian Wilson, head of the north east counter terrorism unit, said:
"Vladimir Aust clearly had a growing fascination with chemicals and manufacturing them into explosives.
A large amount of differing and concerning substances were discovered, not just from his own room in the university accommodation but within communal areas.
Some of the items recovered are classed as potentially volatile and therefore could have put those within the vicinity at risk.
Although there is no evidence or indication what Aust planned to do with the items he manufactured, the hours he spent researching and working on them is of great concern.
It is thanks to university staff raising and reporting their concerns that local police intervened and Aust could not take his obsession any further.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the university, students and local community for their understanding and patience during what was no doubt a concerning time for them.
If anyone has any concerns about the behaviour or actions of someone they know or have come into contact with then please contact your local police or confidentially via the Anti-Terrorist Hotline on 0800 789 321.''
After sentencing, which was attended by the student's father, a spokesman for Newcastle University said:
"The safety of our staff and students is always our top priority and we would like to thank Northumbria Police who we worked closely with throughout the incident.''
Northumbria Police assistant chief constable Jo Farrell said afterwards:
"This was undoubtedly a worrying time for staff and students at Newcastle University whose safety was always our priority as well as that of the general public.''