A Pakistani man was ordered held on immigration charges by a federal magistrate yesterday, three weeks after a North Carolina police officer arrested him as he videotaped skyscrapers in downtown Charlotte, law enforcement officials said.
Kamran Akhtar, 36, of New York City's borough of Queens, was arrested on July 20 in Charlotte after he tried to walk away from a police officer who approached to ask what he was doing, according to a court document released in his case. At one point, Akhtar said he was going to the bus station, but it was in the opposite direction, the document said.
Akhtar's video camera also contained footage of buildings in Atlanta, Houston, Dallas and New Orleans, the court document said.
News of the arrest comes amid heightened concern about photos of U.S. financial institutions that were apparently taken by al Qaeda operatives and found on al Qaeda computers seized in a raid in Pakistan last month. U.S. officials said the 2000 and 2001 surveillance information showed that terrorists were casing financial sites in Washington, New York and Newark, and they raised the terrorist threat alert status for the financial sectors in those cities on Aug. 1.
A U.S. magistrate yesterday ordered Akhtar, also known as Kamran Shaikh, held on a charge that he lied to local and federal officers about his immigration status. Ordered to leave the country in 1998, he apparently remained illegally. He is in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Irfan Akhtar said in an interview that his brother recently received the video camera as a gift, and was filming as he traveled the country. His brother was laid off recently from a job in a photo store, Irfan Akhtar said, adding, "He's not a terrorist."
The video camera contained videotape not only of the Bank of America and Wachovia Bank buildings in downtown Charlotte, but also earlier tape of buildings in downtown Atlanta, Austin, Houston, Dallas and New Orleans, according to an affidavit filed by ICE agent John Scott Sherrill. In addition, there was tape of a dam outside Austin and of trolley and transportation systems in several cities, it said.
"It has sparked suspicions and a full-blown investigation," said a government official who declined to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the case. He added that at this point officials are not saying the case involves terrorism.
Officials said Akhtar lied in stating that he had a "green card" to live in this country, the ICE agent's affidavit said. A New York immigration court in 1998 gave him a few months to leave the United States, it said.
Charlotte Police Officer Anthony Maglione said at a news conference yesterday that Akhtar was "evasive" under questioning, and that "his statements were all over the place" about what he was doing in the city, the Associated Press said.