Questions swirl around anti-Islam film blamed for Egypt protest, attack in Libya
By Mike Brunker, NBC News
Questions swirled Wednesday around the makers of a provocative anti-Islam movie blamed by some for triggering protests at U.S. diplomatic outposts in Egypt and Libya and sparking an attack on the latter that claimed the life of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
At least one clip from what is described as a feature film titled “Innocence of Muslims” was posted on YouTube and later reposted after being translated into Arabic. The clip, an amateurish production featuring dozens of actors, portrays Muhammad, believed by Muslims to be God’s prophet, as a womanizer, a homosexual and a child abuser.
Reports published by The Associated Press and the Wall Street Journal identified the filmmaker as Sam Bacile. The AP described Bacile as a 56-year-old Israeli American real estate developer from California; the Journal said he was a 52-year-old real estate developer, but did not say where he lived. Both news organizations said that they interviewed Bacile, who was said to be in hiding, by phone, and both quoted him as saying the film was intended to show that "Islam is a cancer."
"This is a political movie," the AP quoted him as saying. "The U.S. lost a lot of money and a lot of people in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we're fighting with ideas."
But by midday Wednesday, Bacile's credibility -- indeed his very existence -- were being questioned:
The Atlantic quoted a man reported by the AP to be a consultant on the film, Steve Klein, as saying that “Bacile” is a pseudonym and that the filmmaker “is not Israeli and most likely not Jewish.”
Klein, a self-described militant Christian activist in Riverside, Calif., told the Atlantic he doesn’t know the man’s real name and indicated that the filmmaker contacted him because he leads anti-Islam protests outside mosques and schools.
A source close to the cast and crew of the film told NBC News that the man known as Bacile misled the actors and production crew.
"The entire crew and cast are extremely upset and feel taken advantage of by the producer," the source said. "We are 100 percent not behind this film and were grossly misled about its intent and purpose. We are shocked by the drastic rewrites of the script and lies that were told to all involved. We are deeply saddened by the tragedies that have occurred."
Israeli officials also told the AP that there is no record of an Israeli citizen named Sam Bacile.
California corporate records show no one by that name as holding a real estate license there.
The 13-minute, English-language trailer was posted on YouTube in July by an account registered to Sam Bacile. The account, which was created in April, lists Bacile's age as 75 and has been used only twice apart from posting the trailer -- once to "like" another video and to make one comment, in Arabic. That comment, which referenced a debate on Egyptian TV over the "Innocence of Muslims" clip, was translated as, "Oh, Animal, it’s 100% an American movie."
The trailer shows an amateur cast performing a wooden dialogue of insults cast as revelations about Muhammad.
Muslims find it offensive to depict Muhammad in any manner, let alone insult the prophet. A Danish newspaper's 2005 publication of 12 caricatures of the prophet triggered riots in many Muslim countries.
The Journal reported the film had been promoted by Terry Jones, the Florida pastor whose burning of Qurans previously sparked deadly riots in Pakistan and other Muslim nations.
Jones, the pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., told NBC News on Wednesday that he aired the trailer once in his makeshift church. But he said efforts to screen it on Tuesday, the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, were thwarted by technical difficulties.
NBC's Kerry Sanders talks about the controversial pastor's history of provocative acts against Islam and how he may be tied to an inflammatory film that has sparked uproar within the global Muslim community.
"We tried to stream it … and every time we did that, it was cut off, disappeared,” he said.
A statement on the pastor’s political website, posted late Tuesday, said that the screening was to have been part of a day-long ‘International Judge Muhammad Day’ in which the Muslim prophet would be subjected to a mock trial for “promoting murder, rape, and destruction of people and property through his writings called the Koran.”
The AP also reported that Morris Sadek, an Egyptian-born Coptic Christian in the United States known for his anti-Islam views, said he was promoting the video on his website and on certain TV stations, which he did not identify.Jones also told NBC’s Kerry Sanders that he had been in contact with the movie’s producer, but did not provide financial support for its production or distribution.
Although it was posted to YouTube in July, the film only attracted attention in the Middle East after an unknown person recently dubbed it into Egyptian Arabic. That translation, which the man who identified himself as Bacile told the AP was accurate, has been broadcast repeatedly on Egyptian media in recent weeks after being seized upon by extreme Islamists who dislike the presence of the country’s Coptic Christians.
NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports on the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya in an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. The envoy is the first American ambassador killed on duty since 1979.
Film news site The Wrap said the Arabic-dubbed version had garnered more than 40,000 views by Tuesday afternoon. However, that clip appeared to have been taken down on Wednesday.
The AP quoted the man who identified himself as Bacile as saying that the film was made in the summer of 2011, with 59 actors and about 45 people behind the camera. The Journal quoted him as saying that the film cost $5 million, which was raised from about 100 Jewish donors, whom he declined to identify.
The man also told the AP that the full film, which he said is three hours in length, was shown only once, to a mostly empty theater in Hollywood earlier this year.