* Voluntarily attends early morning meeting with probation
* Nakoula not under arrest and not handcuffed
* Use of aliases, Internet may violate prison release terms
By Alex Dobuzinskis
LOS ANGELES, Sept 15 A California man linked to
an anti-Islam film that sparked violent protests across the
Muslim world was questioned on Saturday by authorities
investigating possible violations of his probation for a bank
Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, a Coptic Christian, was
voluntarily interviewed by federal probation officers at a
sheriff's station in the Los Angeles suburb of Cerritos and left
about 30 minutes later, said Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
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
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
The terms of Nakoula's release restrict him from accessing
the Internet or assuming aliases without the approval of his
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.
SCENES SAID SHOT AT NAKOULA HOME
A crew member on the film said in an interview with Reuters
that he was there when scenes were shot at Nakoula's house in
Cerritos. The man, who did not want his name used due to
concerns about his safety, said he was told at the time that it
was the home of the producer, Sam Bacile.
In film clips circulating on YouTube, distinctive front
doors shown from the inside in one scene were nearly
indistinguishable from the front doors of Nakoula's house as
seen from the outside. Both have frosted glass, semi-circular
cut-outs with stenciled rose designs in the wood double-door
The film crew member said he heard the budget was under
$100,000 and that the man he knew as Bacile was in charge of the
"He said he raised it himself," the man told Reuters. "He
said he owned gas stations throughout Orange County and all this
other stuff, and he said he saved it out of his own pocket."
The Wall Street Journal has reported that assistant director
Jeffrey Robinson said the film's budget was $250,000.
An expired Backstage.com casting call described the
production as "ultra low budget," and commentators have cited
the amateurish film's fake beards and stilted dialogue as
evidence of its crude production.
The casting call lists the film as a "historical Arabian
Desert adventure film" and the crew member said he was told that
it was a period piece set in Egypt thousands of years ago and
dealt with conditions for women at the time.
He said that when he was working on the production, under
the title "Desert Warrior," it was not described to him as being
about the Prophet Mohammad. The script was distributed only two
or three pages at a time, he said.
In several scenes from the film circulating on YouTube,
actors' voices appear to be dubbed over to insert dialogue
relating to Mohammad or the Koran.
The nonprofit group Media for Christ took out a production
permit for the film, according to officials from the city of
Duarte, California, where the group is based. Tax documents list
Joseph Nasrallah Abdelmasih as the head of Media for Christ.
An online video posted in 2010 shows Abdelmasih at a New
York rally, where he urged a crowd to "stop the Islamization of
America" and oppose the construction of a Muslim center at the
site of the World Trade Center attack.
The crew member who worked on the film said some shooting
occurred at the offices of Media for Christ, which broadcasts
satellite TV shows and seeks to reach audiences in the Middle
East and North Africa. He said people from the organization were
present during the filming.
Representatives of Media for Christ could not be reached for
comment. Their offices were closed when Reuters visited them
over the past two days.