Mystery surrounds anti-Islam movie makers

2012-09-13 10:01
Pastor Terry Jones. (Getty Images/AFP, File)

Pastor Terry Jones. (Getty Images/AFP, File)

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Los Angeles - Mystery remained on Wednesday over exactly who was behind the anti-Islam film which sparked deadly protests in the Middle East, amid conflicting claims of Jewish or Coptic Christian involvement.

The film's director, who called himself Sam Bacile and said on Tuesday he is American-Israeli and had Jewish financial backing, went into hiding after the protests in Egypt and Libya over his low-budget movie Innocence of Muslims.

But doubts about his identity grew, culminating in US media reports pointing to a California Coptic Christian convicted of financial crimes, living outside Los Angeles.

Adding further to the puzzle, the cast and crew of the movie voiced anger at having been exploited, with at least one saying that offensive parts of dialogue had been dubbed over their own words, as filmed.

US ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in Benghazi, Libya on Tuesday, the 11th anniversary of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States.

Steve Klein, a consultant on the movie, denied that Israeli authorities were involved in the film, and said Bacile - which he acknowledged was a pseudonym - was mortified to hear of the US ambassador's death.

'Islam is a cancer'

"He's very upset that the ambassador got murdered," he said.

In a Wall Street Journal interview published on Tuesday, "Bacile" took straight aim at Islam.

"Islam is a cancer," he said, adding that he had raised $5m to make the film from about 100 Jewish donors, and used about 60 actors and 45 crew to make the two-hour movie in a three-month period last year in California.

The film was screened in one Hollywood movie theatre about three months ago, and sank without trace, until an Arabic-language dubbed version was released last week and footage was aired by an Egyptian TV station, triggering protests.

But the cast and crew voiced anger on Wednesday, according to CNN, which cited a joint statement as saying: "The entire cast and crew are extremely upset and feel taken advantage of by the producer.

"We are 100% not behind this film and were grossly misled about its intent and purpose... We are shocked by the drastic re-writes of the script and lies that were told to all involved.

Obvious overdubbing

Actress Cindy Lee Garcia, who plays a woman whose young daughter is given to Mohammed to marry, said she did not know the film was anti-Muslim propaganda, adding that dialogue had been overdubbed after filming.

"It was going to be a film based on how things were 2 000 years ago," Garcia told the gossip website Gawker. "There wasn't anything about Mohammed or Muslims or anything."

Indeed, the over-dubbing of dialogue is obvious to even to a casual viewer of a 14-minute clip for the movie available online, with words crudely inserted in the middle of sentences.

Online reports cited in the New York Times blog suggested Morris Sadek, an Egyptian-born Coptic Christian, and his ally Terry Jones, the Florida pastor notorious for previous Qur'an-burning stunts, had co-operated in promoting the movie.

But later on Wednesday a report cited by US media identified Nakoula Basseley Nakoula as saying he managed the company that produced the film, and that he was a Coptic Christian.

The 55-year-old, who was sentenced to 21 months in jail over federal bank fraud charges in 2010, denied however that he was Sam Bacile, even though a cellphone used for a media interview on Tuesday was traced to his address.

'He could get killed'

Klein said he did not know the filmmaker's nationality - and denied that Israeli authorities had anything to do with the project.

"I know there's some rumours out there, that Israel did it. No. Israel's not involved... This was private people, private money."

Klein warned that the director could suffer the same fate as Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, who was assassinated in 2004 after triggering protests with an anti-Muslim film.

"He could get killed, really easily," he said.

Pastor Jones meanwhile denied that the film was against Muslims. "The film is not intended to insult the Muslim community, but... to reveal truths about Mohammed that are possibly not widely known," he said in a statement, adding it was "very clear that God did not influence him in the writings of the Qur'an".

"The fruits of the religion speak for themselves. For example the recent outbreak of violence and deaths is not because of the film, it is not because of the activities that we have done, and that we will continue to do."

Jones asked to reconsider

Jones said the violence which has accompanied protests in Libya's Benghazi city and the Egyptian capital Cairo "again shows the true nature of Islam. Islam does not tolerate criticism of Mohammed, the Qur'an or Sharia.

"Because of their fear of criticism, knowing that if Islam and the Qur'an were closely examined, Mohammed and the Qur'an will be revealed for what it is, a lie and a deception," the Florida-based pastor added.

The top US military officer, General Martin Dempsey, called Jones, whose previous threats to burn the Qur'an ignited deadly riots in Afghanistan, to urge him to disavow the film.

"In the brief call, General Dempsey expressed his concerns over the nature of the film, the tensions it will inflame and the violence it will cause," his spokesperson Colonel Dave Lapan said in an e-mail.

"He asked Mr Jones to consider withdrawing his support for the film," he said.

But a senior administration official said Jones made no pledge to stop promoting the film.

"He heard the chairman's concerns but he was non-committal," the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters.

Read more on:    us  |  egypt  |  libya  |  prophet protests  |  movies  |  north africa  |  benghazi attack  |  religion

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