15 Sep 2012

Filmmaker ‘behind Mohammed movie’ questioned by police

A Californian filmmaker linked to an anti-Islamic film which sparked a wave of violent protests across the world is taken in for questioning by officers.

As the demonstrations sweeping across the Middle East, South Asia and Africa spread to Australia, filmmaker Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, voluntarily left his home in the early hours of Saturday morning for the meeting in a sheriff’s station in the Los Angeles suburb of Cerritos.

Although he denied involvement in the film, Innocence of Muslims, during a phonecall to his coptic Christian bishop, he was ushered out of his home and put into a waiting car by several sheriff’s deputies with his face shielded by a scarf, a hat and sunglasses.

Mr Nakoula, whose name has been widely linked to the film, pleaded guilty to bank fraud in 2010 and was sentenced to 21 months in prison, to be followed by five years on supervised probation.

He was taken in by officers investigating possible probation violations stemming from the making of the film.

The 13-minute film, which mocks the Prophet Mohammed, was cited as a reason for attacks on the US embassy in Libya last week which claimed the lives of four members of staff including the ambassador to the US, Christopher Stevens. Investigators remain focused on other lines of inquiry including that the assault was pre-planned to coincide with the anniversary of 9/11.

Taliban commanders who claimed responsibility for an attack which killed two US marines on Camp Bastion in Afghanistan, where Prince Harry is based, also referred to the film.

Tahrir Square


Ensuing demonstrations spread to countries including Egypt, Yemen, Sudan, and Tunisia, with German and British embassies among those being drawn into protesters’ sights.

The death toll from Friday’s attack on the US embassy in Tunis rose to four this morning, with 46 people injured, according to officials.

Hundreds of Muslim demonstrators clashed with police in Sydney where protesters, including children, shouted “Down, down USA” and waved banners carrying slogans saying: “Behead all those who insult the prophet”.

The demonstrations in Australia followed those held in other countries including Mauritania, Indonesia, and in Nigeria, where troops fired live rounds in the city of Jos.

Running street battles also continued in central Cairo (pictured below and left), and Tunisian demonstrators set fire to several vehicles and an American school during a failed attack on the main embassy compound. In northern Lebanon, 300 Islamists set fire to a branch of the US fast food chain, KFC.

Kornish El Nile, Cairo (Reuters)

There were also protests in Sydney, London and France in response to the film (see left and below)

Read more: the film behind the fury

Video production

Mr Nakoula was accused of fraudulently opening bank and credit card accounts using social security numbers that did not match the names on the applications, a criminal complaint showed. He was released in June 2011, and at least some production on the video was done later that summer.

But the terms of Nakoula’s prison release contain behaviour stipulations that bar him from accessing the internet or assuming aliases without the approval of his probation officer.

A senior law enforcement official in Washington has indicated the probation investigation relates to whether he broke one or both of these conditions. Violations could result in him being sent back to prison.

Clips of the film posted on the internet since July have been attributed to a man by the name of Sam Bacile, which two people linked to the film have said was likely an alias.

Telephone number

A telephone number said to belong to Bacile, given to Reuters by US-based coptic Christian activist Morris Sadek who said he had promoted the film, was later traced back to a person who shares the Nakoula residence.

As well as the fraud conviction, Nakoula also pleaded guilty in 1997 to possession with intent to manufacture methamphetamine and was sentenced to a year in jail, said Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office.

After the Pentagon sent marines to beef up security at the US embassy in Sudan following similar despatches of reinforcements to Libya and Yemen, President Barack Obama rejected any denigration of Islam. But he said there is no excuse for attacks on US embassies.

“I have made it clear that the United States has a profound respect for people of all faiths,” he said in his weekly radio address.

“Yet there is never any justification for violence…There is no excuse for attacks on our embassies and consulates.”

Diraz, Bahrain (Reuters)
Dhaka, (Reuters)
Damascus (Reuters)
Casablanca (Reuters)