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Possible Terror Link to Videotape

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Report: Houston Chronicle

Aug. 11, 2004, 10:11AM

Houston in video being examined for links to terror

Pakistani's film also shows state Capitol, other landmarks

By CLAY ROBISON and PEGGY O'HARE

Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle

Videotapes showing Houston skyscrapers, Reliant Stadium and the city's light rail system, seized from a Pakistani man arrested in North Carolina last month, are being investigated for possible links to terrorists, federal officials said Tuesday.

The tapes also include footage of the state Capitol and Governor's Mansion in Austin, a major dam outside Austin and parts of Dallas.

State and local officials said they did not know of any credible terrorist threats against Texas or Houston but urged citizens to remain alert and report suspicious activity to law enforcement.

"I want people to know we're vigilant and we keep in touch with federal officials," Houston Mayor Bill White said Tuesday afternoon. "Citizens shouldn't be panicked."

Police Chief Harold Hurtt said the same level of security in place since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks would remain in downtown, the Port ofHouston, airports and other areas.

Federal officials in Charlotte, N.C., announced Tuesday that a Pakistani citizen, Kamran Akhtar, who was arrested July 20, had been charged with immigration violations. Also known as Kamran Shaikh, Akhtar remained in custody in Charlotte.

The Elmhurst, N.Y., resident was arrested after behaving suspiciously when he was approached by a police officer while taking videos of downtown Charlotte, officials said.

The Charlotte videos included footage of two bank buildings, one of which houses the local FBI office. Akhtar told police he was making videotapes for family members.

According to a federal affidavit unsealed Tuesday, Akhtar, 35, had video footage of other Southern cities, including the downtown areas of Austin, Houston, Dallas, New Orleans and Atlanta.

Mansfield Dam was taped

The affidavit, signed by John Scott Sherrill, a special agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the videos also appeared to include Mansfield Dam, outside Austin, and public transportation facilities, including Houston's downtown transit center.

At times, Sherrill said, the camera operator "turned the camera sideways in order to videotape the entire building and often zoomed in on street signs."

Bob Doguim, spokesman for the Houston FBI office, said portions of the Houston video show the downtown skyline and other panoramic views, but he said investigators have not been able to determine whether the camera operator had been trying to zero in on particular sites.

He said he did not know when the video was shot.

None of the local agencies would release the videotape, describing it as "law enforcement-sensitive."

But spokesmen said the departments are reviewing it frame by frame.

"We want to get a feel for what it shows, and quite frankly, what it may not show," Metropolitan Transit Authority Police Chief Tom Lambert said.

"It shows pictures of trains and pictures of buses. So, we're looking at the tape now to get more details."

Harris County Sheriff's Department officials, whose jurisdiction contains many petrochemical complexes, said they did not recognize anything in their territory on the tape.

Austin Assistant Police Chief Rudy Landeros said the Austin videotapes, shot July 16, four days before Akhtar's arrest, included the Capitol, the Governor's Mansion, Mansfield Dam and the Frost Bank Building.

"This type of footage would not normally be taken by a person on vacation or a sightseer," he said.

"We've always known since 9/11 that Austin could be a target," Landeros said.

More security advised

He said businesspeople in downtown Austin had been advised to increase their visible security and report suspicious activities.

He said a "welcome home" celebration for Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong will be held at the Capitol, as scheduled, on Friday.

"At this time, there is no known credible threat to the state of Texas. In a post-9/11 world, Governor Perry urges all Texans to always remain vigilant but to continue with their daily lives," said Robert Black, the governor's spokesman.

Akhtar was charged with violating federal immigration and naturalization laws and making a false statement, federal authorities in Charlotte announced.

A detention hearing is scheduled for Friday.

According to court documents, Akhtar told authorities that he had a "green card," indicating permanent-resident status.

Man had sought asylum

Officials said they determined he didn't have a green card and was in the United States illegally. He applied for political asylum in 1992, but his application was denied in 1997, they said.

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

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Clay Robison reported from Austin. Chronicle reporters Cindy Horswell and Rosanna Ruiz and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

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