Federal authorities have identified a California man as the filmmaker behind a movie that sparked anti-American violence in Egypt, Libya and Yemen.
A U.S. law enforcement official told the Associated Press 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. U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in Libya during the Wednesday attack.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation. He 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. However, Bacile turned out to be a false identity, and the AP traced a cellphone number Bacile used to a home in Southern California, where Nakoula was interviewed.
Nakoula said he did not direct the film, but he said he knows Bacile. Nakoula told the AP that he was a Coptic Christian and said the film’s director supported the concerns of Christian Copts about their treatment by Muslims. Bacile initially told AP he was Jewish and Israeli, although Israeli officials said they had no records of such a citizen.
Nakoula, who is a Coptic Christian, is currently on probation after his conviction for financial crimes. Back in 2010, he pleaded no contest to federal bank fraud charges in California. His sentence included paying back restitution, serving 21 months in prison and not being able to use a computer for five years.
It was actually just a short clip of the movie on YouTube that sparked the unrest in Libya and Egypt. Google has now pulled the clip from those countries. It is still accessible in the U.S. and other countries.
The film depicts the Prophet Muhammad in a negative light implying among other things that he was a child molester. Some of those who appeared in the film are in Southern California and are now speaking out. One actress involved in the film says she was tricked, and that she had no idea that she was attacking the Muslim religion.
“There was never any mention of Muhammad or Muslims or anything like that in the film. I was just playing the role of a mother. I have the actual script. I have the title of the film, which was ‘Desert Warriors,’” said actress Cindy Lee Garcia. She said her voice was dubbed over and she would never have taken part in the movie had she known the true purpose.
“I want my name cleared that I had no part of that. That I would never hurt anybody no matter what religion they are, nationality they are, that I’m not that woman,” said Garcia.
Those who did know the film’s true contents said it showed briefly at a local theater, but it never attracted much attention.
“My role was just to listen to Sam with his strategy and tactics and try to encourage these young men to come in and watch the movie and that was it. I did some very small logistical help and stepped in with a very small amount of work and I encouraged Sam and his staff to continue doing what they were doing,” said Steve Klein, who claims he worked on the film.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, says Klein is a former Marine with ties to the religious right. The group describes Klein as the founder of the Courageous Christians United, which conducts protests outside abortion clinics, Mormon temples and mosques.
Meantime, the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Los Angeles, Southern California and Hawaii released a statement Thursday, saying they strongly condemn the events in Libya and the controversial film.
“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 statement read.