September 13, 2012
Egyptian admits involvement with anti-Islam film, Jewish connection seems unlikely
He’s not a Jew.
At least, that’s the latest on the man behind the anti-Islam film, "Innocence of Muslims," that has fueled attacks on U.S. diplomatic installations in Libya, Egypt and Yemen, leaving the U.S. ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, dead.
The filmmaker appears to be an Egyptian Christian rather than an Israeli Jew, as he had claimed in interviews.
The Associated Press tracked down an Egyptian Coptic Christian living in Southern California who admitted to involvement with the film’s logistics, and whose middle name and a known alias closely resemble the apparently fake name – Sam Bacile – used by the filmmaker.
A 14-minute trailer for the crudely produced film ridiculing the Muslim Prophet Mohammed and posted to YouTube with an Arabic translation has been cited as the reason for the outbreak of violence at U.S. diplomatic posts in the Middle East.
On Tuesday night, heavily armed Islamists stormed the U.S. consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi, killing Stevens and and three members of his staff. Fighters claimed that their actions were driven by anger at the film, though U.S. officials believe the assault may have been pre-planned.
The deadly attack followed angry protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, where rioters breached the compound’s walls and destroyed its American flag.
On Thursday, protesters stormed the grounds of the U.S. Embassy in Yemen’s capital city of Sanaa. There were also more anti-American demonstrations in Cairo and other capitals of Muslim countries.
In the wake of the initial violence, several media outlets interviewed a California man who gave his name as Sam Bacile who reportedly had produced, directed and written "Innocence of Muslims." The man said that 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 his claims were initially widely repeated, including by JTA, they quickly came under scrutiny. There appears to have been no such person by that name involved in film or real estate, now was that name known in California’s Jewish and Israeli communities. A high-ranking Israeli official in Los Angeles told JTA on Wednesday 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.
A self-described Christian activist from Southern California who was a consultant to the film told The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg that Bacile was a pseudonym and was not Israeli, and likely not Jewish. The consultant, Steve Klein, who has a history of anti-Islam activism, said that those behind the film were largely Evangelical Christians and included some Copts.
A member of the film’s cast, who said she and others involved with the film were misled about its true message, said that the film’s director was Egyptian.
The Associated Press located an Egyptian man by the name of Nakoula Basseley 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 had pleaded no-contest to federal bank fraud charges and had been 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.
A host of Jewish organizations have issued statements condemning the attacks on U.S. installations.
The Atlantic's Goldberg noted that the erroneous reports about the filmmaker's alleged Jewish background have spread across the Middle East and as a consequence endanger Jews. As of Thursday, Iran’s Press TV was still reporting that the film was produced by an Israeli American and financed by Jews.