Mystery Man Behind the Anti-Islam Film May Have Been Identified

Mohammad as depicted in the film. Photo: YouTube

The man allegedly responsible for the anti-Islamic film Innocence of the Muslims stirred skepticism Wednesday with conflicting accounts about his identity, but now it appears that the Associated Press may have tracked him down. Sam Bacile, the fifty-something Israeli-American filmmaker, may actually be Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a 55-year-old Coptic Christian from California. Nakoula denies that he's been posing as the film's director, but the AP reports that it traced a cell phone number used to contact Bacile to the same address near Los Angeles where it located Nakoula.

The "film" circulating on YouTube is a ludicrous fourteen-minute trailer ridiculing Muslims and the prophet Muhammad that was posted in July by the user "sam bacile." Bacile says the production was funded by $5 million raised from 100 Jewish donors. The trailer reached a much wider audience recently when it was dubbed in Arabic and then broadcasted and discussed by "influential and radical Muslim preachers with large satellite television audiences," according to ABC News. The film may have sparked protests and riots at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, where four Americans were killed including U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens. CNN sources said that the attacks in Libya may have been preplanned by a pro–al Qaeda group, with the protests serving as a diversion to launch the attack.

Nakoula told the AP that he is a manager at the company that produced Innocence of the Muslims and that he knows Bacile, but denied he directed the film. He also said he was a Coptic Christian and the film's director supported the concerns of Christian Copts about their treatment by Muslims.

There's other evidence linking Bacile to Nakoula. Nakoula pleaded no contest to federal bank fraud charges in California in 2009 for what a prosecutor termed a "check-kiting scheme." The criminal complaint says that Nakoula used various aliases including Nicola Bacily, Ahmad Hamdy, and Erwin Salameh. The AP also reports that "Nakoula offered his driver's license to show his identity but kept his thumb over his middle name, Basseley." Meanwhile there's no record of a man named Sam Bacile.

Steve Klein, who helped produce the film, told ABC News that he'd met Bacile and said he was not Israeli or Jewish, but an Arab Christian and a U.S. citizen. Klein is a member of the Church of Kaweah, described by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as "a secretive cohort of militant Christian fundamentalists preparing for war" with Muslims. Klein said that he, Bacile, and the others responsible for the film were refugees from the Middle East.

The SPLC wrote earlier this year:

In 2011, as head of the Concerned Citizens for the First Amendment, [Klein] worked with the Vista, Calif.-based Christian Anti-Defamation Commission on a campaign to “arm” students with the “truth about Islam and Muhammad” — mainly by leafleting high schools with literature depicting the Prophet Mohammed as a sex-crazed pedophile.

And that's how Mohammed is depicted in the film. "We went into this knowing this was probably going to happen," Klein told the AP about the making of the movie. Somewhere along the line, the filmmakers reached out to Koran-burning Florida Pastor Terry Jones to help distribute and promote the thing.

"I have not met him. Sam Bacile, that is not his real name," Jones said. "I just talked to him on the phone. He is definitely in hiding and does not reveal his identity. He was quite honestly fairly shook up concerning the events and what is happening. A lot of people are not supporting him. He was generally a little shook up concerning this situation."