Muslims across the Middle East outraged by an anti-Islam film made in the US wanted swift punishment for the man behind the movie, and now Mark Basseley Youssef is behind bars. However, he has been jailed for lying about his identity, not because of the video’s content.
Court documents show Youssef, 55, legally changed his name from Nakoula Basseley Nakoula in 2002, but never told federal authorities, who are using that as part of the probation violation case against him.
Youssef was ordered jailed without bail on Thursday until a hearing is held to determine if he violated terms of his supervised release on a 2010 bank fraud conviction.
Youssef, an Egyptian-born Christian who is now a US citizen, sought to obtain a passport in his new name, but still had a California driver’s license as Nakoula, Assistant US Attorney Robert Dugdale said on Friday. Youssef used a third name, Sam Bacile, in association with the 14-minute trailer for the anti-Islam movie Innocence of Muslims posted on YouTube.
Youssef went into hiding on Sept. 15 after the film sparked angry protests and his home in Los Angeles was put up for sale. He was arrested on Thursday.
The case is not about Youssef’s constitutional right to make a controversial film, but about his failure to be truthful with federal authorities, Dugdale said.
Adam Winkler, a constitutional law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles’ School of Law, said US Central District Chief Magistrate Judge Suzanne Segal’s decision to order Youssef held without bail is supported by the evidence.
“This is not an end-run around constitutional protections. Those are major red flags in any case and even if this was a low-profile case and the same facts had come out, this person would be denied bond,” he said.
Given the threats against him, Youssef has the motive to flee, even if there is an arrest warrant for him in his native Egypt and a call for his head in Pakistan, said Olu Orange, an adjunct professor in the University of Southern California’s political science department.
A hearing will be held to decide if Youssef violated his probation.
After his 2010 conviction, Youssef was sentenced to 21 months in prison and was barred from using computers or the Internet for five years, and using any name other than his true legal name without approval from his probation officer.
Orange County Superior Court documents show Nakoula was granted a name change petition in 2002 and legally became Mark Basseley Youssef. As reason for the change, he said: “Nakoula is a girl’s name and it cause me troubles.”
Authorities said Youssef used more than a dozen aliases and opened about 60 bank accounts and had more than 600 credit and debit cards to conduct the check fraud.
When he was identified as Nakoula after the movie went viral, federal probation officials questioned him. He denied using the name Sam Bacile and said his role in the film was limited to writing the script. Dugdale said there is evidence showing he had a larger role.
Rebecca Lonergan, a former federal prosecutor, said it is possible that federal authorities never would have pursued a probation violation case against Youssef were it not for the film.