Saturday, September 15, 2012

Man Linked to Film in Protests Is Questioned - New York Times

LOS ANGELES â€" One of the men behind the anti-Muslim film trailer on YouTube that has sparked violent protests at Western embassies across the Middle East, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, was taken in for questioning by federal probation officers early Saturday morning, law enforcement officials said.

Mr. Nakoula, 55, was questioned at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s station in Cerritos, where he lives. He was not placed under arrested.

“This was a voluntary interview he did with federal probation officers,” said Kim Manatt, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy.

Federal court officials did not immediately respond to calls on Saturday.

In June 2010, Mr. Nakoula was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison for orchestrating a check-kiting scheme.

Though he served only about a year in prison, part of his sentence also prohibited him from using the Internet for five years without permission from his probation officer, court record show.

The incendiary, amateurish video, which depicts the prophet Mohammad as a buffoon, a womanizer, and a child molester, was first uploaded to YouTube in June and translated to Arabic and uploaded several more times in the week leading up to the Sept. 11 anniversary.

That helped set off protests last week, first at the United States embassies in Egypt and Libya, where the American ambassador and three other people were killed, and then at Western embassies and consulates throughout the Middle East.

Since the protests, Mr. Nakoula had remained holed up inside his house, while a media encampment kept 24-hour watch outside his front door.

A photograph on the Los Angeles Times Web site showed Mr. Nakoula wearing a coat, scarf, and hat pulled down over his face as Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies ushered him into a car.

Mr. Nakoula, the former owner of a gas station near his home, apparently used a series of pseudonyms while making and discussing the film, even when dealing with some of the actors, who believed they were making a film called “Desert Warriors.”

One actress said she had no idea Mohammad was even a character in the film, which was produced in 2011 in the remote hills of Los Angeles County.

In addition, as part of the bank fraud scheme for which he was convicted in 2010, prosecutors also alleged that Mr. Nakoula possessed at least 15 credit and debit cards in the names of other people, along with at least five identification documents that were not issued lawfully.

Deputy Don Walker of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department told The Associated Press that Mr. Nakoula traveled voluntarily in a squad car with deputies for the interview.

“He went to the Cerritos station to talk with probation officers,” Deputy Walker said. “He’s not under any arrest.”

The deputy said he did not know how long the interview lasted.

Federal authorities have identified Mr. Nakoula, a self-described Coptic Christian, as the key figure behind “Innocence of Muslims,” a film denigrating Islam and the Prophet Muhammad that ignited mob violence against American embassies across the Middle East.

A federal law enforcement official told The Associated Press on Thursday that authorities had connected Mr. Nakoula to a man using the pseudonym Sam Bacile who claimed earlier to be the writer and director of the film.

Violent protests set off by the film in Libya played a role in mob attacks in Benghazi that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other American officials.

American Embassy gates in Cairo were breached by protesters and demonstrations against American missions spread to Yemen on Thursday and on Friday to several other countries.

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