It looks like the Associated Press has solved the mystery of who was behind the anti-Islam film believed to have sparked this week’s violent protests at U.S. missions in Egypt, Libya and throughout the Middle East.
That man is Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a 55-year-old Coptic Christian with a criminal past who lives in California, according to the news wire’s digging, which has been backed up by a federal law enforcement official.
In an interview with the AP, Nakoula admitted to providing logistical support for the production of Innocence of Muslims but denied being “Sam Bacile,” the name given as the film’s maker. But the evidence cobbled together by AP reporters Gillian Flaccus and Stephen Braun suggests otherwise.
The AP was one of a handful of media outlets to publish an interview early Wednesday with a man who claimed to be Bacile. Reporters traced the cell phone number used during that interview to Nakoula’s address and, once there, noticed that Nakoula covered up his middle name of “Basseley” with his thumb when displaying his driver’s license.
A little more digging on the part of Flaccus and Braun led to the discovery that Nakoula pleaded no contest in 2010 to bank fraud charges, had used numerous aliases in the past, and had a number of connections to the Bacile persona. An unnamed U.S. law enforcement later confirmed to the AP that they had the right man.
Religion Dispatch‘s Sarah Posner appears to have been the first reporter to raise doubts about Bacile’s on Wednesday, noting that the man who spoke with the media gave conflicting details about himself.
Over the course of the day those doubts grew, with reporters noting that despite a claim that the film cost $5 million—which “Bacile” claimed to have raised from a hundred Israeli donors—it had comically poor production value.
A 13-minute trailer for the film portrays Mohammad as a pedophile-appeasing, bumbling spreader of false doctrine. Notably, as On the Media spotted, all of the more controversial lines in the trailer were dubbed in later, apparently to keep the film’s actors and crew from knowing what they were working on.
More on that aspect from CNN:
A casting call published in July 2011 in Backstage magazine and in other publications for actors identifies the working title of the movie as “Desert Warrior” and describes it as a “historical Arabian Desert adventure film.”
An actress in the film who asked not to be identified said the original script did not include a Prophet Muhammed character. She added that she and other actors complained that their lines had been changed.
The actress said she spoke Wednesday with the producer, who is identified in the advertisement as Sam Bassiel. “He said he wrote the script because he wants the Muslims to quit killing,” she said. “I had no idea he was doing all this.”
“I would never be involved in a film to ever hurt or bring harm to anybody,” she told CNN. “This makes me sick to my stomach to think that I was involved in that movie that brought death to somebody else.”
The actress said the character of Muhammed in the movie was identified as George when it was shot, and that she returned afterward and read other lines that may have been dubbed into the piece.
A member of the production staff who worked directly on the film and has a copy of the original script corroborated the actor’s account, adding that it mentions neither Muhammed nor Islam.The Wall Street Journal identified the filmmaker as Sam Bacile, an Israeli-American real estate developer. The Journal reported that, in its telephone interview with Bacile, he characterized his film as “a political effort to call attention to the hypocrisies of Islam.”
“Islam is a cancer,” he told the newspaper. “The movie is a political movie. It’s not a religious movie.”
CNN has not been able to contact Bacile and cannot verify that he made the movie. A CNN search of public records on Sam Bacile came up empty.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry said it doesn’t know who Bacile is.
Now we know why. He’s not a Jew, he’s a Christian.