Updated, 3pm Eastern:
Federal authorities have identified a Coptic Christian in southern California who is on probation after his conviction for financial crimes as the key figure behind the anti-Muslim film that ignited mob violence against U.S. embassies across the Mideast, a U.S. law enforcement official told The Associated Press on Thursday.
The official said authorities had concluded that Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, was behind “Innocence of Muslims,” a film that denigrated Islam and the prophet Muhammad and sparked protests earlier this week in Egypt, Libya and most recently in Yemen. It was not immediately clear whether Nakoula was the target of a criminal investigation or part of the broader investigation into the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in Libya during a terrorist attack.
Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed Thursday that Justice Department officials were investigating the deaths, which occurred during an attack on the American mission in Benghazi.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation, said Nakoula was connected to the persona of Sam Bacile, a man who initially told the AP he was the film’s writer and director. But Bacile turned out to be a false identity, and the AP traced a cellphone number Bacile used to a southern California house where it located and interviewed Nakoula.
Bacile initially told AP he was Jewish and Israeli, although Israeli officials said they had no records of such a citizen. Others involved in the film said his statements were contrived, as evidence mounted that the film’s key player was a Coptic Christian with a checkered past.
Nakoula told the AP in an interview outside Los Angeles on Wednesday that he managed logistics for the company that produced the film. Nakoula denied he was Bacile and said he did not direct the film, though he said he knew Bacile.
Federal court papers filed against Nakoula in a 2010 criminal prosecution noted that he had used numerous aliases, including Nicola Bacily, Robert Bacily, Erwin Salameh and others.
During a conversation outside his home, Nakoula offered his driver’s license to show his identity but kept his thumb over his middle name, Basseley. Records checks by the AP subsequently found that middle name as well as other connections to the Bacile persona.
The AP located the man calling himself Bacile after obtaining his cellphone number from Morris Sadek, a conservative Coptic Christian in the U.S. who has promoted the anti-Muslim film in recent days on his website. Egypt’s Christian Coptic populace has long decried what they describe as a history of discrimination and occasional violence from the country’s Muslim majority.
Pastor Terry Jones of Gainesville, Fla., who sparked outrage in the Arab world when he burned Qurans on the ninth anniversary of 9/11, said he spoke with the movie’s director on the phone Wednesday and prayed for him. Jones said he has not met the filmmaker in person but added that the man contacted him a few weeks ago about promoting the movie. Jones and others who have dealt with the filmmaker said Wednesday that Bacile was hiding his real identity.
“I have not met him. Sam Bacile, that is not his real name,” Jones said. “He is definitely in hiding and does not reveal his identity.”
The YouTube account under the username “Sam Bacile” was used to publish excerpts of the provocative movie in July and was used to post comments online as recently as Tuesday, including this defense of the film written in Arabic: “It is a 100 percent American movie, you cows.”
Nakoula, who talked guardedly with AP about his role, pleaded no contest in 2010 to federal bank fraud charges in California and was ordered to pay more than $790,000 in restitution. He was also sentenced to 21 months in federal prison and was ordered not to use computers or the Internet for five years without approval from his probation officer.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Leigh Williams said Nakoula set up fraudulent bank accounts using stolen identities and Social Security numbers; then, checks from those accounts would be deposited into other bogus accounts from which Nakoula would withdraw money at ATM machines.
It was “basically a check-kiting scheme,” the prosecutor told the AP. “You try to get the money out of the bank before the bank realizes they are drawn from a fraudulent account. There basically is no money.”
Prior to his bank fraud conviction, Nakoula struggled with a series of financial problems in recent years, according to California state tax and bankruptcy records. In June 2006, a $191,000 tax lien was filed against him in the Los Angeles County Recorder of Deeds office. In 1997, a $106,000 lien was filed against him in Orange County.
American actors and actresses who appeared in “Innocence of Muslims” issued a joint statement Wednesday saying they were misled about the project and alleged that some of their dialogue was crudely dubbed during post-production.
In the English-language version of the trailer, direct references to Muhammad appear to be the result of post-production changes to the movie. Either actors aren’t seen when the name “Muhammad” is spoken in the overdubbed sound, or they appear to be mouthing something else as the name of the prophet is spoken.
“The entire cast and crew are extremely upset and feel taken advantage of by the producer,” said the statement, obtained by the Los Angeles Times. “We are 100 percent not behind this film and were grossly misled about its intent and purpose. We are shocked by the drastic rewrites of the script and lies that were told to all involved. We are deeply saddened by the tragedies that have occurred.”
One of the actresses, Cindy Lee Garcia, told KERO-TV in Bakersfield that the film was originally titled “Desert Warriors” and the script did not contain offensive references to Islam.
“When I found out this movie had caused all this havoc, I called Sam and asked him why, what happened, why did he do this? I said, ‘Why did you do this to us, to me and to us?’ And he said, ‘Tell the world that it wasn’t you that did it, it was me, the one who wrote the script, because I’m tired of the radical Muslims running around killing everyone,’” she said.
Garcia said the director, who called himself Sam Bacile, told her then that he was Egyptian.
The man identifying himself as Bacile told the AP he was an Israeli-born, 56-year-old Jewish writer and director. But a Christian activist involved in the film project, Steve Klein, told the AP on Wednesday that Bacile was a pseudonym and that the man was Christian. Klein had told the AP on Tuesday that the filmmaker was an Israeli Jew who was concerned for family members who live in Egypt.
About 15 key players from the Middle East — people from Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan and Iran, and a couple of Coptic Christians from Egypt — worked on the film, Klein said.
“Most of them won’t tell me their real names because they’re terrified,” Klein said.
An official of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Los Angeles said in a statement Thursday that the church’s adherents had no involvement in the “inflammatory movie about the prophet of Islam.” An official identified as Bishop Serapion of the Coptic Orthodox of Los Angeles, said that “the producers of this movie should be responsible for their actions. The name of our blessed parishioners should not be associated with the efforts of individuals who have ulterior motives.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, said Klein is a former Marine and longtime religious-right activist who has helped train paramilitary militias at a California church. It described Klein as founder of Courageous Christians United, which conducts protests outside abortion clinics, Mormon temples and mosques.
Google Inc., which owns YouTube, pulled down the video Wednesday in Egypt, citing a legal complaint. It was still accessible in the U.S. and other countries.
Associated Press writers Gillian Flaccus, Shaya Tayefe Mohajer and Michael Blood in Los Angeles, Tamara Lush in Tampa, Fla., and AP researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. Link: http://www.longislandpress.com/2012/09/13/us-ids-anti-muslim-filmmaker-who-sparked-riots/
An anti-Islamic film wound up on Egyptian TV, leading to a deadly clash.
September 12, 2012
The identity of the filmmaker behind the anti-Islamic video “Innocence of Muslims” remains unclear, but the way the film spread before it reportedly led to the angry protests that killed a U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans can be more clearly traced.
The film appears to have first popped up on YouTube in July, in the form of a 14-minute English-language trailer. Few watched it. The film was reposted to YouTube last week, this time dubbed into Arabic. And according to the New York Times Lede blog, that version was soon copied on YouTube again and again.
But the film only really picked up steam when it was posted to “Nacopticas,” a blog run by an Egyptian-American lawyer and Coptic Christian named Morris Sadek. Also on Sadek’s site: a photo of himself alongside Terry Jones, the Florida pastor infamous for having burned copies of the Koran.
Sadek is known for his anti-Muslim screeds, and for having had his Egyptian citizenship revoked in May 2011 after he allegedly called for attacks on Egypt. Sadek, who lives in the U.S., has filed multiple, unsuccessful lawsuits to regain his citizenship.
Egyptian protesters climb the walls of the U.S. embassy during protests in Cairo, Egypt.
But Sadek’s promotion of the film didn’t stop with his blog. In an interview with the Associated Press, he told the wire service he promoted the film on Egyptian television stations as well. Sadek did not respond to request for comment from U.S. News.
A broadcast on one station, an Egyptian channel called Al-Nas, appears to have been the tipping point for the film.
Al-Nas is an immensely popular, and very religious channel whose motto is “a channel that will take you to heaven.” Earlier this week, a complaint was filed against Al-Nas for allegedly “inciting strife between Muslims and Christians” in an unrelated incident.
A scene from the trailer of “Innocence of Muslims” was broadcast on Al-Nas just days ago by host Sheikh Khaled Abdalla. The particularly controversial scene depicted the prophet Muhammad as a “buffoonish caricature,” according to the Lede.
While the Quran does not ban visual depictions of the prophet Muhammad, some Islamic traditions see it as deeply disrespectful.
Within 48 hours of Al-Nas’s broadcast, hundreds of protesters were climbing the walls of the United States embassy in Cairo in protest, and an armed mob was setting fire to the consulate in Benghazi. U.S. ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens was killed in the attack, the first time an ambassador was killed in the line of duty since 1979, along with three other Americans.
According to the AP, the maker of the film has now gone into hiding.
FILM PROMPTS RIOTS, MURDER OF U.S. AMBASSADOR
September 12, 2012
U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three members of his staff were killed early today (Wednesday) in Benghazi, Libya by protesters angered over a two-hour film, Innocence of Muslims, ridiculing the Islamic religion in general and its Prophet Muhammad in particular. The State Department did not immediately confirmed the death of the ambassador, but news reports cited several officials as saying that Stevens was killed when he went to the consulate to help evacuate its staff after it came under attack by a mob armed with guns and rocket-propelled grenades. A similar attack was reported at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.
The film that reportedly sparked the violence was produced, directed and written by Sam Bacile, an Israeli filmmaker living in California, who reportedly has now gone into hiding. It reportedly was financed by members of Egypt’s Coptic Christian church and was promoted in the U.S. by the Rev. Terry Jones, who sparked similar outrage when he burned the Quran at his Florida church.
A 13-minute trailer of the film. in English and Arabic, was posted on YouTube but was blocked following the killing of Ambassador Stevens. New York Post film critic Lou Lumenick concluded that, based on the trailer, “it’s not only the most offensive but the most thoroughly inept piece of ‘filmmaking’ I’ve had the misfortune to watch in 30 years of reviewing films. … Not only is the depiction of Mohammed as a sex-mad killer enough to enrage Muslims, but every aspect of this production is so amateurish that nobody in their right mind would let [the filmmaker] within 500 yards of movie equipment. … If it weren’t so despicable, this could almost pass for a parody of a hate video.” The events in Egypt and Libya may also have prompted the cancellation of a serious documentary questioning the origins of Islam that was to have been shown at the headquarters of Britain’s Channel 4. The film, Islam: The Untold Story, narrated by historian Tom Holland, drew more than 1,000 complaints when it aired two weeks ago.The broadcaster said it had canceled the screening under “security advice.”
The attacks quickly became a political issue in the U.S. presidential campaign. Before they began the U.S. Embassy in Cairo issued a statement condemning “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.” Following the attacks, Secretary of State Clinton issued a statement saying, “Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. … But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.” However, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney appeared to ignore the fact that the criticism of the film by the embassy was issued prior to the attacks, responding, “It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.” Romney’s statement was applauded by supporters who posted hundreds of comments on websites and blogs reviling “our Islam-loving president” and calling for military action against the protesters. But a spokesman for the Obama campaign said in a statement, “We are shocked that, at a time when the United States of America is confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya, Governor Romney would choose to launch a political attack.”