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Filmmaker behind anti-Islam video is arrested

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the man behind 'Innocence of Muslims,' is arrested on suspicion of violating the terms of his probation, including allegedly lying about his role in the film's production.

September 28, 2012|By Victoria Kim and Jessica Garrison, Los Angeles Times

The filmmaker behind the anti-Islamic video that has sparked violence across the globe was arrested Thursday on suspicion of violating the terms of his probation, including allegedly lying about his role in the film's production.

Magistrate Judge Suzanne H. Segal ordered Nakoula Basseley Nakoula detained, citing a "lengthy pattern of deception" by the man, adding that he poses "some danger to the community." Nakoula could face up to three years behind bars.

The hearing occurred amid high security, with the public allowed to watch only through a video feed in a separate courthouse blocks away. Before his arrest Thursday, Nakoula and his family had been in hiding, and his attorney said he had received threats to his safety.

Nakoula, who was on supervised release from a 2010 conviction for bank fraud, faces eight charges of probation violation, including making false statements to authorities about the film "Innocence of Muslims." When probation officials questioned him about the video, Nakoula allegedly claimed his role was limited to writing the script, and he denied ever using the same "Sam Bacile" in connection with the film, according to Assistant U.S. Atty. Robert Dugdale.

Dugdale said there is evidence Nakoula's role in making "Innocence of Muslims" was "much more expansive" than penning the script. Prosecutors said Nakoula could face new criminal charges for lying to federal officials.

Dugdale said none of the violations Nakoula is accused of relate to use of the Internet, even though his probation terms specify he is not permitted to possess or use a device with access to the Internet without permission from his probation officer.

A trailer for the film uploaded on YouTube has outraged Muslims around the world and has become the centerpiece of a debate over the clash between free speech and hate speech. Arab leaders called on the U.S. to ban anti-Islam insults, while President Obama defended 1st Amendment protections for such speech even as he criticized the video as crude and offensive. The film depicts the prophet Muhammad as a womanizer and child molester.

At Thursday's hearing, Segal asked the man who went into hiding after the uproar over his film if his true name was Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. He said he had legally changed his name to Mark Basseley Youssef in 2002.

Nakoula's attorney, Steven Seiden, asked that his client be released on $10,000 bond, saying he was not a flight risk. He also said his client would be in danger at the downtown Metropolitan Detention Center because of what he said was a large Muslim population at the lockup.

Prosecutors told Segal they've been assured the Metropolitan Detention Center has protocols to house "inmates of notoriety" and contended Nakoula would possibly be safer in custody. They said Nakoula was a man who "simply cannot be trusted" and whose deceptions had caused "real harm." Because of his use of aliases, he was able to deceive people into working on the film without realizing they were dealing with a convicted felon, Dugdale told the judge.

He said Nakoula had applied for a passport under one name, obtained a driver's license under another and used a third name — which he spelled various ways — while working on the film.

Dugdale said another mystery was Nakoula's access to money, citing witnesses who received checks from the man for their work on the film.

Using the name "Sam Bacile," he previously told the Associated Press that the film was financed with $5 million from wealthy Jewish donors — a figure experts said was hard to believe given the quality of the production. An actor who appeared in the movie previously told The Times he was paid $75 a day in checks from the bank account of Abanob Basseley Nakoula — a name linked to the Cerritos property where Nakoula resides.

Segal said Nakoula had failed to prove he wasn't a flight risk. She said she was satisfied the security issue had been addressed by the Bureau of Prisons.

Probation officials have recommended a 24-month term for Nakoula, prosecutors said in court. He faces a maximum of three years in prison if found to have violated his parole.

After the hearing, vehicles marked "Homeland Security" blocked a stretch of Main Street as three unmarked vans tore out of the courthouse and sped off in the direction of the federal lockup.

According to the court records, Nakoula operated under a dizzying array of aliases.

In June 2010, he was convicted on four counts, including bank fraud and identity theft, and was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison. He was also ordered to pay $794,700.57 in restitution.

He was released in June 2011, according to federal records.

victoria.kim@latimes.com

jessica.garrison@latimes.com

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