World

U.S. man linked to anti-Islamic movie may be in hiding

A Southern California filmmaker linked to an anti-Islamic movie inflaming protests across the Middle East was interviewed at a Los Angeles sheriff's station and afterward decided not to return to his home — possibly heading into hiding, authorities said.

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula not under arrest

Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies stand down the street from the suburban Los Angeles home of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, identified Friday as being a key figure behind a film denigrating Islam. (Reed Saxon/Associated Press)

A Southern California filmmaker linked to an anti-Islamic movie inflaming protests across the Middle East was interviewed at a Los Angeles sheriff's station and afterward decided not to return to his home — possibly heading into hiding, authorities said.

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, was interviewed Saturday by federal probation officers for about half an hour at the station shortly after 12 a.m. in his hometown of Cerritos, Calif., said Steve Whitmore, spokesman for the Los Angeles County sheriff's department.     

After that, deputies dropped Nakoula off at an undisclosed location.     

"He is gone. We don't know where he went," Whitmore said. "He said he is not going back to his home."     

Probation under review

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, with face covered, is escorted out of his home by Los Angeles County Sheriff's officers in Cerritos, California. (Bret Hartman/Reuters)

Federal officials are investigating whether Nakoula, who has been convicted of financial crimes, has violated the terms of his five-year probation. If so, a judge could send him back to prison.     

Nakoula went voluntarily to the station, wearing a coat, hat, scarf and glasses that concealed his appearance. His home has been besieged by media for several days.     

Whitmore said Nakoula was not handcuffed and the heavy apparel was his idea.  

The probation department is reviewing the case of Nakoula, who pleaded no contest to bank fraud charges in 2010 and was banned from using computers or the Internet or using false identities as part of his sentence. Whitmore did not disclose other details about the interview.     

Federal authorities have identified 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 U.S. embassies across the Middle East.     

Much of the film was shot inside the offices of Media for Christ, a nonprofit based in the Los Angeles-area city of Duarte. The charity raised more than $1 million last year "to glow Jesus' light" to the world.

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A federal law enforcement official said authorities had connected Nakoula to a man using the pseudonym of Sam Bacile who claimed earlier to be writer and director of the film.     

Violent protests set off by the film in Libya played a role in the attacks in Benghazi that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other American officials. Anti-U.S. mob protests have since spread to several other countries.     

There are indications that Innocence of Muslims may have already been under way as a film project when Nakoula was arrested. A casting call for actors and crew for a film called Desert Warrior ran in Backstage magazine, based in Los Angeles and New York, in May and June 2009. The casting call described the film project as a "historical Arabian Desert adventure" and listed a "Sam Bassiel" as producer.

One notice identified Pharaoh Voice Inc. as the film's production company. California state records show Pharaoh Voice was incorporated in September 2007 by a "Youssef M. Basseley." The principal address for Pharaoh Voice in Hawaiian Gardens, a southern California community, is the same location where Nakoula lived until 2008, according to state records.

Leaders of Egyptian Coptic and Muslim communities from New Jersey and New York City and its suburbs gathered at a mosque Saturday in a show of unity. The group, meeting in Jersey City, N.J., expressed pain over the wave of protests and appealed for calm.     

"Those who did this (film) are not Christian," the Rev. David Bebawi, a Coptic priest, told the gathering of about 30 leaders. "Those who killed the American ambassador and others are not Muslim."     

An organizer of Saturday's event, Egyptian-born Muslim Ahmed Shedeed, said as a community with deep roots in America, many are struggling with a range of emotions.     

"There is an agony in the community, there is turmoil over this happening," Shedeed said. "It's something we all have to face as a united Egyptian community and make sure those looking to pull us apart do not succeed."

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