SOUTHEAST New tapes present terrorism questions
Videotapes by an illegal Pakistani immigrant aren't of usual tourist sites.
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The videotapes seized from a Pakistani man filming on the streets of Charlotte last month play like a list of potential terror targets throughout the South: skyscrapers, dams, transit centers and government buildings.
But federal authorities haven't issued alerts to the public, and local and state officials say they aren't beefing up security or taking any extra precautions beyond those in place since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
It's unclear yet if Kamran Akhtar of New York -- arraigned Tuesday in federal court in Charlotte on immigration charges -- had any connection to terrorists, or what he intended to do with his tapes of landmarks in Texas, Atlanta, New Orleans and Charlotte.
"We are thoroughly investigating to determine what this is," said Dean Boyd, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Kept from public
Officials said they kept the news of the July 20 arrest from the public until Tuesday's court appearance because they didn't want to disrupt an ongoing investigation.
North Carolina officials said that -- unlike recent warnings around financial centers in New York and Washington -- they've been told by federal authorities that there is no information that any of the buildings Akhtar was videotaping have been targeted.
"The general public does not need to be overly concerned," said Bryan Beatty, North Carolina Secretary of Crime Control and Public Safety and the state's top homeland security official, "but it is an example of how important it is for everyone to be vigilant."
In New York, a high-ranking law enforcement official said investigators view Akhtar as a "video buff" with no terrorist links. However, he's a suspect in crimes besides the immigration violations, said the official, who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
In U.S. illegally
A Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officer stopped Akhtar -- a 35-year-old Pakistani who had been living illegally in the United States for more than a decade -- on July 20, according to a criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday.
Akhtar had videotaped the 60-story Bank of America building, Charlotte's tallest skyscraper, and the former Wachovia building that now houses Duke Power offices and the state's FBI headquarters.
Akhtar also had tapes showing scenes of downtown buildings, trolley cars and transit centers in the other cities.
"This was not the type of video a tourist or sightseer would take," said Austin Assistant Police Chief Rudy Landeros, who viewed portions showing his city on Monday. "In our opinion, it looked like surveillance tapes."
The tapes included four Austin, Texas, landmarks: the governor's mansion, the state capitol, the Frost Bank building and the Mansfield Dam, taken from various locations and angles, Landeros said.
Cities in the South are treating news of the arrest very differently. The New Orleans mayor's office said Tuesday that nothing new is being done.
But police in Austin asked private companies to increase their security around major buildings.
Charlotte businesses that had been taped found out about the suspicious activity shortly after Akhtar's arrest, along with some elected officials. They didn't tell the public because federal authorities asked them not to.