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California Muslims hold vigil for slain ambassador

The Tustin vigil came as law enforcement personnel patrolled near Coptic Christian churches because of the role of Egyptian Christians in making the film that spurred violence in the Mideast.

September 15, 2012|By Mona Shadia and Harriet Ryan, Los Angeles Times
  • Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies escort two attorneys to the Cerritos home of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, believed to be the filmmaker behind the anti-Muslim movie that sparked rioting in the Arab world.
Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies escort two attorneys to the… (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles…)

About 60 Southern California Muslims gathered Friday evening at the intersection of Barranca Parkway and Jamboree Road in Tustin to mourn the loss of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and the three others killed earlier this week in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

The vigil was organized by a young Syrian American, who, along with some friends, wanted "to show that what happened in Libya does not represent us as Muslims," said Lilah Khoja, 21. "Even more important, we should stand by and honor the great Christopher Stevens, who did a lot for the Libyan people."

Khoja's initiative has led to other planned vigils throughout the nation, including in New York, Boston, Washington, D.C. and Chicago.

Photos: Protests over anti-Islam film spread

Stevens and three others were killed when demonstrators stormed the embassy Tuesday, on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, to protest the film "Innocence of Muslims," which depicts the prophet Muhammad as a womanizer and child molester.

Libyan American Ayoub Misherghi, 63, came from his home in Upland with his wife and daughter to express their dismay with the attacks on the embassy.

"We are very sorry," he said. "We wanted to express our sorrow and solidarity with the staff of the U.S. embassy in Libya."

Friday's vigil came as law enforcement agencies stepped up patrols around Coptic Christian churches. Authorities said they were concerned about reprisals against the houses of worship because of the role of Egyptian Christians in making the movie.

Federal officials launched a probe Friday into whether one of the filmmakers, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, violated the terms of his probation in connection with the movie trailer's posting on YouTube. Nakoula, a Cerritos gas station operator, had been freed from custody two months before the film shoot. The terms of his probation in a 2009 bank fraud case required him to seek approval before using the Internet and barred him from using computers except for work. If investigators find him in violation, he could be returned to prison, a federal court spokeswoman said.

Nakoula collaborated with Media for Christ, an Arabic Christian charity run by a fellow Egyptian immigrant, to shoot the movie last year. A production call sheet reviewed by The Times on Friday indicates that some of the scenes were filmed inside the charity's Duarte headquarters. Eleven actors shot a desert scene using a green screen with tents and an oasis in August 2011 at broadcast studios Media for Christ rents in an office park near the 210 Freeway, according to the sheet.

The film sparked riots across the Middle East this week after its You Tube trailer was dubbed into Arabic, but it attracted a degree of attention in Los Angeles this summer. A screening of the movie at a Hollywood theater was advertised in the Anaheim-based Arab World newspaper in May and June. An employee said a man who identified himself as Joseph paid $300 for the ad to run three times. The president of Media for Christ is named Joseph Nasralla Abdelmasih.

The ads delivered few people to the theater, but did draw the notice of the Anti-Defamation League, which monitors publications about the Middle East.

"When we saw the advertisement in the paper, we were interested in knowing if it was some kind of pro-jihadist movie," said Oren Segal, the ADL's Islamic affairs director. In a translation of the ad provided by the ADL, the movie — then called "Innocence of Bin Laden" — was billed as revealing "the real terrorist … who caused the killing of our children In Palestine, and our brothers in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Another ad for the screening caught the eye of Los Angeles tour guide Brian Donnelly. He said a poster for "Innocence of Bin Laden" at the entrance of the Vine Theatre stopped him in his tracks last June.

"I thought it was a joke at first, in all honesty,'' said Donnelly, a guide for Dearly Departed Tours, which shuttles tourists to famous crime scenes across Los Angeles. "I didn't know if it was a good thing or a bad thing. We didn't know what it was about because we can't read Arabic.''

mona.shadia@latimes.com

harriet.ryan@latimes.com

Times staff writers Abby Sewell, Robert Faturechi, Jessica Garrison, Ken Bensinger and Phil Willon contributed to this report.

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