Key figure behind anti-Muslim movie taken in for questioning

(JTA) — An Egyptian Christian man that police say is one of the key figure behind the anti-Islam film “Innocence of Muslims” has been taken in for questioning. 


Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, was taken in for questioning by federal probation officers on Saturday morning, the New York Times reported. He was questioned near Los Angeles, but was not placed under arrest.

Police reportedly may be investigating whether Nakoula uploaded the 14-minute movie trailer, translated into Arabic, to YouTube.

If he did so, it violates the terms of his sentencing in a conviction in a 2010 check-kiting case, which does not allow him to use the Internet without permission from his probation officer.

The trailer for the crudely produced film ridiculing Islam’s Prophet Muhammad has been cited as the reason for the outbreak of violence at U.S. diplomatic posts in the Middle East and throughout the world. Four American diplomats have died in the violence.

In the wake of the initial violence, two media outlets interviewed a California man who gave his name as Sam Bacile and reportedly said he had produced, directed and written “Innocence of Muslims.” The man said he was an Israeli-American real estate developer hoping to help Israel with the film, which he said was financed with $5 million by “100 Jewish donors.”

While media outlets, including JTA, widely repeated his claims, they quickly came under scrutiny. There appears to have been no such person by that name involved in film or real estate, nor was that name known in California’s Jewish and Israeli communities. A high-ranking Israeli official in Los Angeles told JTA on Sept. 12 that extensive inquiries among Hollywood insiders and members of the local Israeli community failed to turn up a single person who knew a Sam Bacile.

Members of the film’s cast, who said they were misled about its true message, said the film’s producer was Egyptian.

The Associated Press located Nakoula, who said that he had handled logistics for the company that produced the film. While Nakoula denied being Sam Bacile, the AP traced the cell phone it had used to contact the filmmaker to Nakoula’s address. The wire service said that when Nakoula showed a reporter his driver’s license, he had kept his thumb over his middle name, which resembles the filmmaker’s alias.

In 2010, Nakoula pleaded no contest to federal bank fraud charges and was ordered to pay more than $790,000 in restitution, the AP reported. The report cited federal court papers saying that Nakoula had used the name Nicola Bacily, among other aliases.

Nakoula said that he supported the concerns of his fellow Coptic Christians regarding their treatment by Egypt’s Muslim majority.

As of Friday, the English-language website of Iran’s Press TV was still repeating the false reports that the film was produced by an Israeli and financed by Jews.

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