Pakistani detained after allegedly videotaping N.C. skyscrapers

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A Pakistani citizen is in federal custody after being arrested by a police officer who spotted him videotaping the 60-story Bank of America headquarters and another skyscraper in downtown Charlotte.

The officer who arrested Kamran Akhtar, 35, said he tried to walk away when officers approached him on July 20 and gave conflicting statements about what he was doing and where he was going.

Videotapes in Akhtar's possession also showed buildings in Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, New Orleans and Austin, Texas, as well as transit systems in some of those cities and a dam in Texas, according to a federal criminal complaint filed last week.

Akhtar was charged in indictments unsealed Tuesday with violating immigration and naturalization laws and making a materially false statement, according to U.S. Attorney Gretchen Shappert.

At a hearing Tuesday morning, a federal magistrate ordered Akhtar held on criminal charges. He has been in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A detention hearing was scheduled for Friday.

The federal prosecutor listed Akhtar as a resident of the New York City borough of Queens and said he also went under the name Kamran Shaikh.

In New York, a law enforcement official said investigators there view Akhtar as a "video buff" with no links to terrorism.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police chief Darrell Stephens said Akhtar told Officer Anthony Maglione at the time of his arrest last month that he was making videotapes for family members.

Maglione said Akhtar's behavior indicated otherwise.

At a news conference Tuesday, the officer described Akhtar's actions as "evasive."

"His statements were all over the place, from taking these videos for his brother to visiting around town," Maglione said. "He said he had to hurry up and get back to the bus station" even though Akhtar was headed away from the downtown bus terminal.

A federal affidavit unsealed Tuesday said the tape in Akhtar's camera and others in his possession showed the Bank of America tower, the signature building on the Charlotte skyline, and a 32-story downtown skyscraper that houses the local FBI office.

Mayor Pat McCrory said Charlotte residents and workers in the city's financial district, which is headquarters to Bank of America and Wachovia Corp., should not alter their routine.

Bank of America said it "continues to conduct business as usual" but is taking security precautions.

According to court documents, when Akhtar was asked about his immigration status, he said he had a green card that his wife obtained for him in 1997. A review of his immigration file found he did not have a green card and was in the country illegally. He applied for political asylum in 1992 and was denied in 1997.

Last week, federal officials issued urgent terror warnings, saying they had uncovered information in Pakistan that indicated five financial institutions in New York, Washington and Newark, N.J., were potential targets.

Bush administration officials have said intelligence has indicated al-Qaida wants to strike financial institutions, and the government also has issued a request to the private sector and operators of infrastructure such as dams and nuclear reactors for information about anyone showing unusual interest in their facilities, including "photographing or videotaping assets."

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