The smiling face of misery: The man who produced chaos in the Arab world
Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the producer of a film that slanders the Prophet Muhammad sparking violent protests across the Muslim World, has been revealed a day after he was questioned by federal investigators near his home in California.
The Daily Mail on Sunday published a photo of filmmaker Nakoula, also known as Sam Bacile, on the set of the amateurish film ‘Innocence of Muslims’ with actress Anna Gurji, who said she was duped by the 55-year-old director.
Gurji, who played the Prophet Muhammad’s child bride, said on Saturday she was afraid of reprisals and that she was ‘betrayed’ by the Egyptian-born director.
“I was playing the youngest bride of a character named George,” she said, according to The Daily Mail. “I had no idea George would be changed to Muhammad. I’m locked up in my house. I’m terrified people in the Middle East will blame me.”
‘I’m Catholic so they might think I have something against Muslims. I’m taking pills to sleep. I’ve been crying for days. I feel betrayed. My face is stuck on the movie clip. People see that awful film and they see me,” Gurji added.
“I was told I was to be Hilary, the young bride of a character called George,’ she said. ‘The film was about a comet that falls to Earth in the ancient Middle East. There are different tribes who think the comet is somehow holy and fight over it. There were supposed to be lots of special effects so a lot of the filming was in front of a green screen. It was super low-budget. I was getting $75 [£50] a day and all my scenes were shot with George against the green screen. I had no idea how it would be twisted,” the actress was quoted by the Mail as saying.
On Saturday, Nakoula, a Coptic Christian, was voluntarily interviewed by federal probation officers at a sheriff’s station in the Los Angeles suburb of Cerritos, said Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, according to Reuters.
The crudely made 13-minute English-language movie, filmed in California and circulated on the Internet under several titles including “Innocence of Muslims,” mocks the Prophet Mohammad and portrays him as a buffoon.
The film helped generate a violent protest at the U.S. consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi during which the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed on Tuesday. U.S. officials said they believe militants used the protest as cover to carry out an armed assault on the diplomatic compound and a building that was supposed to be a safe house.
Protests have spread to other countries across the Muslim world.
For many Muslims, any depiction of the prophet is blasphemous. Caricatures deemed insulting in the past have provoked protests and drawn condemnations from officials, preachers, ordinary Muslims and many Christians.
U.S. officials have said authorities were not investigating the film project itself, and that even if it was inflammatory or led to violence, simply producing it cannot be considered a crime in the United States, which has strong free speech laws.
An attorney for Nakoula did not return phone calls and a representative for the U.S. Probation Office had no comment on the outcome of Nakoula’s questioning by officers.
Nakoula was ushered out of his home shortly after midnight and into a waiting car by sheriff’s deputies, his face shielded by a scarf, hat and sunglasses.
“He was never put in handcuffs ... It was all voluntary,” said Whitmore, who added that Nakoula would not immediately return to his home.
Bank fraud conviction
Nakoula, whose name has been widely linked to the film in media reports, pleaded guilty to bank fraud in 2010 and was sentenced to 21 months in prison, to be followed by five years on supervised probation, court documents showed.
He 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 the film was produced later that summer.
The terms of Nakoula's release restrict 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 Nakoula broke one or both of these conditions.
A source with knowledge of the case has said the probation office was looking specifically into Nakoula's possible involvement in making the YouTube film in violation of the terms of his release.
Any probation violation could result in him being sent back to prison, court records showed.
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.
A telephone number said to belong to Bacile was given to Reuters by U.S.-based Coptic Christian activist Morris Sadek who said he had promoted the film. That phone number was traced back to a person who shares the Nakoula residence.
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