CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A Pakistani man detained after he was spotted making videotapes of Charlotte skyscrapers faces immigration charges, but it was not immediately clear whether authorities consider him a terror suspect.
Kamran Akhtar (search), 35, was being held in federal custody pending a Friday detention hearing in U.S. District Court in Charlotte. Officials said Tuesday that Akhtar was arrested July 20, after a police officer spotted him filming the 60-story Bank of America (search) headquarters and another downtown skyscraper.
Besides the Charlotte towers, videotapes found in his possession included footage of buildings and transit systems in Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, New Orleans and Austin, Texas, according to a federal criminal complaint filed last week.
In an indictment unsealed at a brief federal court appearance Tuesday, Akhtar was charged with violating federal immigration and naturalization laws and making a false statement.
U.S. Attorney Gretchen Shappert said Akhtar, who also goes by Kamran Shaikh, lives in New York City.
A high-ranking law enforcement official in New York said investigators there view Akhtar as a "video buff" with no links to terrorism. However, the defendant is a possible suspect in other crimes besides the immigration violations, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The official refused to elaborate.
Before the charges were filed Tuesday, Akhtar had been in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (search).
In Dallas, Police Chief David Kunkle, who learned of the tapes from the FBI on Thursday, said steps have been taken to secure parts of downtown. He did not elaborate.
"We're still working with the FBI," said Kunkle. "Homeland security is an ongoing issue, but this tape certainly raises our awareness."
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 "evasive" behavior indicated otherwise.
"His statements were all over the place, from taking these videos for his brother to visiting around town," Maglione said Tuesday. "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 a review of the tape in Akhtar's camera and others in his possession showed film of Charlotte's signature skyscraper, the Bank of America tower, and a 32-story building that houses the local FBI office.
Bank of America said it "continues to conduct business as usual" but was taking security precautions. Wachovia Corp., which also has headquarters in the city's financial district, said it was assessing the information.
According to an affidavit by John Scott Sherrill, a federal immigration agent, Akhtar's videotapes show the camera was turned sideways at times to film an entire building, and frequently zoomed in on street signs.
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, which signifies permanent residence status, and was in the country illegally. He applied for political asylum in 1992 and was denied in 1997.