WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An American Coptic Christian activist whose California TV facility was used to make an anti-Islamic film that touched off protests across the Muslim world said he was deceived by the film’s producer about its inflammatory content.
In a statement posted on the blog of a prominent American anti-Islamic activist, Joseph Nassralla, founder of a Duarte, California-based group called Media for Christ, said he was a victim of “disinformation and smear” and the film’s principal producer had altered its content without his knowledge.
Media for Christ operates a Christian satellite TV station called The Way TV, according to its website and tax return.
Nassralla said he was contacted last year by Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, whom he described as the film’s producer, with a plan to make a film about the persecution of Christians in Egypt.
Nakoula, who has a criminal record for bank fraud and drug offenses, was briefly questioned last weekend by federal authorities about possible probation violations. He was later released and has gone into hiding.
Nassralla said in his statement that in explaining his film project, Nakoula had said the film would be called “Desert Warrior” and would “examine the culture of the desert and how it is related to what is going on right now.”
The statement was posted on the website Atlasshrugs2000, which is run by Pamela Geller, an activist who has organized anti-Islamic protests and events, including demonstrations opposing construction of an Islamic center near the site of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York in 2001.
There was no way to independently confirm Nassralla’s account.
An attorney representing Nakoula in the investigation by probation officials declined to comment on Nassralla’s statement, saying he was aware of the blog post but had not had a chance to discuss it with his client. He said Nakoula or his representatives may issue a statement in the future.
Nassralla, who spoke at two rallies in 2010 and 2011 organized by Geller, said Nakoula “needed a place to film. So I let him use my facility.”
“That is all I did, and is the full extent of my involvement with this project. Nakoula used my facility for ten days. Media for Christ employees were given a vacation during that time, because Nakoula was using the facility and so there was no work for them. There was only one Media for Christ employee who remained, to answer phones for the ministry,” Nassralla said.
There was no sign of activity at the small studios of Media for Christ, located in a nondescript office park behind a Walmart store in suburban Duarte, during two visits last week by a Reuters reporter.
On both occasions the doors were found locked and knocks went unanswered. A woman who worked at an office next door said she had not seen any employees there in recent days.
Nassralla said he later discovered that Nakoula, using the name “Sam Bacile,” had used Media for Christ’s name without his permission to obtain an official permit for making the film.
After accounts of the film began circulating in Egypt and other Muslim majority countries, the amateurish production - which portrays the Prophet Mohammad as a womanizer and a fool - set off a chain of violent protests and attacks on U.S. and other Western embassies in the Middle East and North Africa.
In his statement, Nassralla said Nakoula had “filmed his movie not only at my ministry location, but in Nakoula’s own home (which reporters located by getting the address from the actors), and in another facility for outside scenes that was included in the permit, Blue Canyon.”
Nassralla also said that behind his back, Nakoula had “altered the film without anyone’s knowledge, changing its entire focus and dubbing in new dialogue. He edited it.”
“The final product, ‘Innocence of Muslims,’ bore no resemblance to the film I thought he was making, or the film the actors thought they were creating. We were shocked,” Nassralla said.
In an introduction to Nassralla’s statement, Geller said that she had last seen him at an event in June in California, and that now he was being “hunted like an animal for speaking critically about Islam.”
Nassralla “is currently in hiding after multiple death threats from Muslims because of his purported role in producing this video,” she said.
In an exchange of emails with Reuters last weekend, Geller suggested that if Nakoula was arrested, that would represent an attempt to impose strict Islamic Sharia law in the United States.
“He will not be in prison for fraud or some probation violation, but for blasphemy. This is Sharia enforcement in America,” she said.
In a later email, however, Geller expressed disappointment over Nassralla’s account of his dealings with Nakoula. But she added, “That would not make (Nakoula) any less a political prisoner.”
Editing by Warren Strobel and Christopher Wilson