The film nobody saw on its release yet gained a second life on the internet as a 13 minute trailer has now made its director one of the world’s most wanted men.
But who is the man who goes by the name of Sam Bacile, and where is he? Why would he make such a movie? Where did the reputedly five million dollars it cost go? The film provides no answer to that.
Californian insurer Steven Klein says he knows Bacile, and was an advisor to the director: “I met him twice. I don’t know where he’s from, but I do know he’s not an Israeli Jew. I can only guess he threw that out there to protect his family, which I do know is back in the Middle East.”
Human rights activists ( www.splcenter.org ) say Klein is a Christian with links to right-wing extremists.
“If I talked to you about this movie would you go out and kill anybody? No. Would the vast majority of Muslims do it? No. Would a very small fraction whose DNA, genomes, their psyche, everything revolves around this insane behaviour, would they go out and do it? Yeah, they would do it. Do I have blood on my hands? No. Did I kill this guy?” says Klein, referring to ambassador Chris Stevens, who died with three others when the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya was sacked. “No.”
Who is Nakoula Basseley Nakoula?
There is mounting evidence that a Los Angeles-area man who served time in prison for bank fraud may have been involved in the film.
Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, who lives in the Los Angeles suburb of Cerritos, has been linked by news organisations to its production.
Nakoula, who is an Egyptian Coptic Christian activist, has promoted the film saying his intention was to highlight discrimination against Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority.
The Coptic Bishop for Los Angeles, who said he feared the impact of the film on the Coptic community if Copts are linked to it, said Nakoula called him on Thursday denying any link to the film.
“He told me that he was not involved in this movie in any way, and I asked him, ‘Why did they put your name on it?’” Bishop Serapion told Reuters. The bishop said Nakoula replied that he was essentially the victim of mistaken identity by the media.
Reporters have not been able to contact Nakoula, but it appeared that at least one scene in the film may have been filmed at his home, which has been besieged by reporters and TV camera crews.
A distinctive interior front door shown in one scene appears to be identical to the exterior door at Nakoula’s house. Both have frosted-glass, half-moon-shaped cutouts with stencilled rose designs.
A Coptic activist from the US state of Virginia, Morris Sadek, who said he played a role in promoting the video, gave Reuters a telephone number for a man he described as the filmmaker. That number was traced back to the Nakoula residence.
A public-records search found it was a pay-as-you-go mobile phone registered to a user who shares a residence with Nakoula. The number initially went unanswered and later seemed to have been disconnected.
Sadek had attributed the video to a man he named as Sam Bacile, which was also the name used by an individual who posted a copy of the video in July on YouTube. But at least two other people linked to the film have said that name was likely a pseudonym.
Nakoula 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 released from prison in June 2011, shortly before production began on the video, prison records show.
Nakoula was accused of fraudulently opening bank and credit card accounts using Social Security numbers that did not match the names given on applications, according to a criminal complaint.
Under the written terms of release from prison, Nakoula was forbidden from using the Internet or assuming any aliases without approval of his probation officer. He also was ordered to make restitution for more than $790,000 from the scam.
Nakoula also pleaded guilty in 1997 to possession with intent to manufacture methamphetamine and was sentenced to a year in jail, said Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office.
Media for Christ
Details of the film’s production remained murky. A group called Media for Christ, which maintains an Arabic-language Christian website, obtained a permit to shoot the film on August 8, 2011, at a studio in the Santa Clarita Valley, north of Los Angeles, said Paul Audley, president of FilmL.A., the agency that processes regional on-location film permits.
The area is home to a Middle East-style village stage set commonly used for Hollywood productions, Audley added. Los Angeles County assistant CEO Ryan Alsop said in a statement that the permit was removed due to “public safety concerns” raised by the US State Department and the FBI.
Media for Christ is a nonprofit organisation based in Duarte, California, which describes itself as an evangelical Christian group, according to federal tax documents. A 2011 tax filing listed revenue of just over $1 million but did not disclose its main donors.
Officials from the group could not immediately be reached, and the front door to the organisation’s office in Duarte was locked.
As for cast members of the film, they are shocked. All thought they were making something else completely.
“It was a film that was in an era of 2,000 years ago called ‘Desert Warriors’, and it was just a film about the way things were back then. I’m praying now for the families of the lost, you know, the ones that lost loved ones, and I am praying for this madness to stop,” said actor Cindy Lee Garcia.