Police in California are keeping a protective watch over the presumed makers of an anti-Islamic video, Innocence of Muslims, who fear for their safety amid surging violence across the Middle East.
Sheriff’s deputies were sent to the home of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula in Cerritos, outside Los Angeles, on Wednesday night because he feared retaliation after being identified as the producer of the film. Members of the FBI joint terrorism task force also visited his home amid growing evidence that Nakoula, 55, a Coptic Christian, was Sam Bacile, the pseudonym of the video’s director and writer.
Police also visited a production company called Media for Christ, a Christian non-profit in Duarte, California, after it was identified as the one which obtained a film permit for the shoot.
No threats were made, but with violence in the Arab world spreading to Yemen — following attacks on US targets in Egypt and Libya which cost the lives of the US ambassador and three of his colleagues in Benghazi — authorities in California were taking few chances.
As the media descended on anyone associated with the video, details emerged about its production and promotion by an alliance of members of Egypt’s Coptic diaspora and militant right-wing US Christians.
The director and producer — known to cast and crew as Bacile and now thought to be Nakoula, a Coptic activist — commissioned Media for Christ to shoot the video at Blue Cloud studios, the Pasadena Star-News reported.
The film’s cast and crew, recruited through a trade magazine, said in a statement on Wednesday they were told the film was set in Egypt 2,000 years ago and would be titled Desert Warriors.
It was shot quickly and cheaply with green screens. Post-production dubbing inserted insulting references to Islam and turned one character, Master George, into a murderous, sex-obsessed version of the prophet Mohammed.
The film was promoted by a Washington DC-based radical Coptic activist, Morris Sadik, and the Koran-burning Florida pastor Terry Jones. An Arabic-language version was posted on YouTube on Sept. 4. Five days later, it was being denounced by media and Muslim clerics in Egypt, prompting assaults on US diplomatic missions in Cairo and Benghazi.
A small network of militant US Christians helped the video’s Californian Coptic makers.
Steve Klein, an anti-Islamic activist and self-described counter-terrorism expert, said he acted as a “consultant” on the film. Klein has worked closely with Coptic groups over the years, according to Jim Horn, a fellow activist.
“He’s been helping them to stand up for themselves against Islamic terror in Egypt. That’s what he does,” he told the Guardian.
Jones was not involved in production, only promotion. Last year he visited Los Angeles and tried to whip up Coptic attendance at a Koran-burning protest, said Bishop Serapion, head of the Coptic diocese in southern California.
“He encouraged the Copts to attend, but very few did because we don’t believe in insulting other religions. We are against such things,” the bishop said.
Bishop Serapion, whose California flock comprises around 14,000 families, condemned the video and said it did not reflect the views of most Copts, even though they said they left Egypt to escape persecution by the Muslim majority.
“Just a few individuals are behind this film. It would be unfair if all Copts were held responsible,” he said.