LOS ANGELES (AP) — The anti-Muslim film implicated in mob protests against U.S. diplomatic missions in the Mideast received logistical help from a man once convicted of financial crimes and featured actors who complained that their inflammatory dialogue was dubbed in after filming.
The self-proclaimed director of “Innocence of Muslims” initially claimed a Jewish and Israeli background. But others involved in the film said his statements were contrived as evidence mounted that the film’s key player was a southern Californian Coptic Christian with a checkered past.
Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, told The Associated Press in an interview outside Los Angeles Wednesday that he managed logistics for the company that produced “Innocence of Muslims,” which mocked Muslims and the prophet Muhammad.
The movie has been blamed for inflaming mobs that attacked U.S. missions in Egypt and Libya this week as well as U.S. Embassy in Yemen on Thursday.
Nakoula denied he had directed the film, though he said he knew the self-described filmmaker, Sam Bacile. But the cellphone number that the AP contacted Tuesday to reach the filmmaker who identified himself as Bacile traced to the same address near Los Angeles where Nakoula was located.
Nakoula told the AP he is a Coptic Christian and supported the concerns of Christian Copts about their treatment by Muslims.
The AP located Bacile after obtaining his cell phone number from Morris Sadek, a conservative Coptic Christian in the U.S. who had 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 Arab 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. “I just talked to him on the phone. He is definitely in hiding and does not reveal his identity. He was quite honestly fairly shook up concerning the events and what is happening. A lot of people are not supporting him. He was generally a little shook up concerning this situation.”
Nakoula, who talked guardedly 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 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.”
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.
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 he 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.
Officials in Israel said there was no record of Bacile as an Israeli citizen.
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.
It quoted Klein as saying he believes that California is riddled with Muslim Brotherhood sleeper cells “who are awaiting the trigger date and will begin randomly killing as many of us as they can.”
In his brief interview with the AP, Bacile called Islam a cancer and said he intended the film to be a provocative political statement condemning the religion.
But several key facts Bacile provided proved false or questionable. Bacile told the AP he was 56 but identified himself on his YouTube profile as 74. Bacile said he is a real estate developer, but Bacile does not appear in searches of California state licenses, including the Department of Real Estate.