The California man associated with the online movie clip that sparked protests in the Middle East was questioned by U.S. authorities investigating whether he violated terms of his parole.
Nakoula Basseley Nakoula was escorted voluntarily from his Cerritos home early yesterday, according to Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca. He was questioned by federal probation officials for less than 45 minutes and then left. Nakoula said he was not returning to his home, Whitmore said.
The U.S. Probation Office in Los Angeles is looking into Nakoula’s role in the film, “Innocence of the Muslims,” which was posted on Google Inc. (GOOG)’s YouTube, according to Karen Redmond, a spokeswoman for the administrative office of the U.S. courts. Nakoula, 55, has a criminal history that includes bank fraud by using false identities and a drug conviction.
Under the terms of his release, Nakoula is prohibited from representing himself with anything other than his true legal name, and is barred from using the Internet without permission from his probation officer.
The 14-minute trailer shows a fictional attack by Muslims on a Christian family, followed by an account of the origins of Islam depicting Muhammad as a womanizer. YouTube blocked access to the clip in Egypt and Libya following attacks on the U.S. missions in those countries. The company said on Sept. 14 it would restrict access in India and Indonesia to comply with local laws. It isn’t clear whether a full-length movie exists.
Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles, said he couldn’t confirm Nakoula is the same person who identified himself as the director, Sam Bacile, in interviews last week.
Protests against the film, which denigrates Islam, eased in the Middle East following violence in Libya, Tunisia, Sudan and Yemen. Clashes in Cairo’s Tahrir Square stopped yesterday after Egypt’s main Islamist groups called for calm. In Tunis, where smoke billowed from the U.S. Embassy a high security presence deterred protesters from taking to the streets yesterday.
A four-hour assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi on Sept. 11 killed Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three embassy employees.
Details of the movie’s origins remain a mystery. A man calling himself Sam Bacile gave interviews last week to the Associated Press and the Wall Street Journal claiming he was the filmmaker. He said he was an Israeli-American real estate developer.
Following press reports that the name was a pseudonym, the AP traced the mobile-phone number it had for Bacile to Nakoula, a Coptic Christian living in suburban Los Angeles. In an interview, Nakoula told the news agency he managed logistics for the company that made the movie. He said he wasn’t the director, according to the AP.
Tim Dax, an actor in the film, told the Los Angeles Times that he was paid $75 a day in checks drawn from a bank account of Abanob Basseley Nakoula, a name linked to Nakoula’s address in public records. Dax, reached through his Facebook profile, declined to comment further.
Nakoula was sentenced to one year in jail in 1997 for intent to manufacture methamphetamine, according to Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley. He was given another year for violating probation in 2002.
Nakoula pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud and was sentenced to 21 months in prison and ordered to pay $794,700 in restitution, according to the June 24, 2010, sentencing document by U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder in Los Angeles.
Accused of fraudulently opening bank and credit-card accounts with a combination of real and fictitious information, Nakoula spent time in federal prison before being released from a halfway house in December 2010, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons. He had been in detention from the time of his arrest in June 2009.
During a five-year probation period, Nakoula is only allowed to use identification with his true legal name; can’t have a device with online access without prior approval; can only use computers, screen or user names, passwords and e-mail accounts that have been approved by his probation officer; and can only use approved computers for his work, according to court records.
James Henderson, the lawyer who represented Nakoula in the federal case, didn’t return a call for comment. Attempts by Bloomberg News to reach Nakoula directly were unsuccessful.
“Innocence of Muslims” was shot in August 2011 at Blue Cloud Movie Ranch in Santa Clarita, north of Los Angeles, according to Paul Audley, president of Film LA, which assists movie makers. Permits to make the movie, then called “Desert Warrior,” were taken out by a group called Media for Christ, based in the Los Angeles suburb of Duarte, Audley said. A man named Sam Bossil was identified as the producer.
The film permit was removed from a Los Angeles County online database temporarily due to public-safety concerns raised by the U.S. State Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ryan J. Alsop, assistant to county Chief Executive Officer William T. Fujioka, said in a statement.
Actors were duped into making a movie that attacked Islam and inflammatory dialogue was dubbed in later, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“The entire cast and crew are extremely upset and feel taken advantage of by the producer,” the Times reported, citing a statement issued on behalf of the crew members. “We are 100 percent not behind this film and were grossly misled about its intent and purpose.”
Calls to the Media for Christ office weren’t returned.
Bacile was a pseudonym, according to Steve Klein, a Southern California insurance salesman and anti-Islamic activist who said he advised the filmmaker on finding actors.
Klein, 62, heads the group Concerned Citizens for the First Amendment, which stages rallies and educational events, contending Islam is a threat to U.S. democracy and freedom. His involvement with the picture couldn’t be independently verified by Bloomberg News.
To contact the reporters on this story: Christopher Palmeri in Los Angeles at firstname.lastname@example.org; Edvard Pettersson in Los Angeles at email@example.com; Phil Mattingly in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org