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Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, Man Linked To Anti-Islam Film, Taken In For Questioning

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NAKOULA BASSELEY NAKOULA
Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies stand down the street from a suburban Los Angeles home believed to be that of filmmaker Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, Friday, Sept. 14, 2012. Federal authorities have identified Nakoula, a self-described Coptic Christian, as the key figure behind "Innocence of Muslims," a film denigrating Islam and the Prophet Muhammad that ignited mob violence against U.S. embassies across the Middle East. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon) | AP File


* Voluntarily attends early morning meeting with probation officials

* Nakoula not under arrest and not handcuffed

* Use of aliases, Internet may violate prison release terms

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES, Sept 15 (Reuters) - A California man linked to an anti-Islam film that sparked violent protests across the Muslim world was questioned on Saturday by authorities investigating possible violations of his probation for a bank fraud conviction.

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, a Coptic Christian, was voluntarily interviewed by federal probation officers at a sheriff's station in the Los Angeles suburb of Cerritos and left about 30 minutes later, said Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

The crudely made 13-minute English-language movie, filmed in California and circulated on the Internet under several titles including "Innocence of Muslims," mocks the Prophet Mohammad and portrays him as a buffoon.

The film helped generate a violent protest at the U.S. consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi during which the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed on Tuesday. U.S. officials said they believe militants used the protest as cover to carry out an armed assault on the diplomatic compound and a building that was supposed to be a safe house.

Protests have spread to other countries across the Muslim world.

For many Muslims, any depiction of the prophet is blasphemous. Caricatures deemed insulting in the past have provoked protests and drawn condemnations from officials, preachers, ordinary Muslims and many Christians.

U.S. officials have said authorities were not investigating the film project itself, and that even if it was inflammatory or led to violence, simply producing it cannot be considered a crime in the United States, which has strong free speech laws.

An attorney for Nakoula did not return phone calls and a representative for the U.S. Probation Office had no comment on the outcome of Nakoula's questioning by officers.

Nakoula was ushered out of his home shortly after midnight and into a waiting car by sheriff's deputies, his face shielded by a scarf, hat and sunglasses.

"He was never put in handcuffs ... It was all voluntary," said Whitmore, who added that Nakoula would not immediately return to his home.


BANK FRAUD CONVICTION

Nakoula, whose name has been widely linked to the film in media reports, pleaded guilty to bank fraud in 2010 and was sentenced to 21 months in prison, to be followed by five years on supervised probation, court documents showed.

He was accused of fraudulently opening bank and credit card accounts using Social Security numbers that did not match the names on the applications, a criminal complaint showed. He was released in June 2011 and the film was produced later that summer.

The terms of Nakoula's release restrict him from accessing the Internet or assuming aliases without the approval of his probation officer.

A senior law enforcement official in Washington has indicated the probation investigation relates to whether Nakoula broke one or both of these conditions.

A source with knowledge of the case has said the probation office was looking specifically into Nakoula's possible involvement in making the YouTube film in violation of the terms of his release.

Any probation violation could result in him being sent back to prison, court records showed.

Clips of the film posted on the Internet since July have been attributed to a man by the name of Sam Bacile, which two people linked to the film have said was likely an alias.

A telephone number said to belong to Bacile was given to Reuters by U.S.-based Coptic Christian activist Morris Sadek who said he had promoted the film. That phone number was traced back to a person who shares the Nakoula residence.


SCENES SAID SHOT AT NAKOULA HOME

A crew member on the film said in an interview with Reuters that he was there when scenes were shot at Nakoula's house in Cerritos. The man, who did not want his name used due to concerns about his safety, said he was told at the time that it was the home of the producer, Sam Bacile.

In film clips circulating on YouTube, distinctive front doors shown from the inside in one scene were nearly indistinguishable from the front doors of Nakoula's house as seen from the outside. Both have frosted glass, semi-circular cut-outs with stenciled rose designs in the wood double-door entrance.

The film crew member said he heard the budget was under $100,000 and that the man he knew as Bacile was in charge of the money.

"He said he raised it himself," the man told Reuters. "He said he owned gas stations throughout Orange County and all this other stuff, and he said he saved it out of his own pocket."

The Wall Street Journal has reported that assistant director Jeffrey Robinson said the film's budget was $250,000.

An expired Backstage.com casting call described the production as "ultra low budget," and commentators have cited the amateurish film's fake beards and stilted dialogue as evidence of its crude production.

The casting call lists the film as a "historical Arabian Desert adventure film" and the crew member said he was told that it was a period piece set in Egypt thousands of years ago and dealt with conditions for women at the time.

He said that when he was working on the production, under the title "Desert Warrior," it was not described to him as being about the Prophet Mohammad. The script was distributed only two or three pages at a time, he said.

In several scenes from the film circulating on YouTube, actors' voices appear to be dubbed over to insert dialogue relating to Mohammad or the Koran.

The nonprofit group Media for Christ took out a production permit for the film, according to officials from the city of Duarte, California, where the group is based. Tax documents list Joseph Nasrallah Abdelmasih as the head of Media for Christ.

An online video posted in 2010 shows Abdelmasih at a New York rally, where he urged a crowd to "stop the Islamization of America" and oppose the construction of a Muslim center at the site of the World Trade Center attack.

The crew member who worked on the film said some shooting occurred at the offices of Media for Christ, which broadcasts satellite TV shows and seeks to reach audiences in the Middle East and North Africa. He said people from the organization were present during the filming.

Representatives of Media for Christ could not be reached for comment. Their offices were closed when Reuters visited them over the past two days.

Egypt's Prime Minister Hesham Kandil told CNN that some people involved in the recent protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo were paid to protest. He also said that some were there on their own accord, though.

For more on his comments, click here.

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Both Libyans and "foreigners" carried out the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, said Libyan President Mohamed Magariaf.

"We have assumptions and we have some information, and all that information we have now leads to the same direction about the perpetrators, the criminals," he told NBC.

For more on Magariaf's comments, click here.

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A local security official walked CNN through the horrific attacks in Libya that left U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens dead. Read the report here.

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@ JomanaCNN : One senior official just told me they have no evidence yet to support President's statements that attack was pre-planned. #Libya

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From the AP:

WASHINGTON — The State Department on Saturday ordered the departure of all family members and non-essential U.S. government personnel from posts in Sudan and Tunisia and is issuing travel warnings to American citizens in the two countries due to security concerns over anti-American violence.

"Given the security situation in Tunis and Khartoum, the State Department has ordered the departure of all family members and non-emergency personnel from both posts, and issued parallel travel warnings to American citizens," said Victoria Nuland, a department spokeswoman.

To read more, click here.

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anti islam film

In this image from video provided by CBS2-KCAL9, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the man behind the anti-Muslim movie that has inflamed the Middle East, is escorted by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies from his home, early Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, in Cerritos, Calif. Nakoula, 55, was interviewed by federal probation officers at a Los Angeles sheriff's station but was not arrested or detained, authorities said early Saturday. (AP Photo/CBS2-KCAL9)

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camp bastion

This image from AP video obtained from the SITE Intel Group posted by al-Emarah Jihadi Studio, an Afghan Taliban media unit who released two clips on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, purports to show smoke rising over Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, after what the Taliban media unit says is an attack at the base. (AP Photo/SITE Intelligence Group)

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According to an AFP report, a far-right group in Germany wants to screen 'Innocence of Muslims,' the film that sparked protests around the world, in Berlin.

German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich told Der Spiegel he would use every legal means at his disposal to stop them.

“Such groups and organizations only want to provoke Germany’s Muslims,” he said, accusing them of recklessly pouring oil on the fire.

Read the full story here.

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libya attack

President Mohammed el-Megarif, fourth right, meets an unidentified Libyan guard of the U.S. Consulate who was wounded following the deadly attack on September 11, 2012, at Benghazi Medical Center in Benghazi, Libya, Friday, Sept. 14, 2012. (AP Photo)

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Saudi Arabia's highest religious authority on Saturday condemned the attacks on U.S. embassies as un-Islamic, according to a report by Reuters.

"It is forbidden to punish the innocent for the wicked crimes of the guilty, or to attack those who have been granted protection of their lives and property, or to expose public buildings to fire or destruction," he said in a speech carried by state news agency SPA.

Read the full report here.

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@ AliTweel : 64 pictures from 12/09/2012 demonstration in #Tripoli against violence and condemnation of US consulate attack https://t.co/Q2CY4FFF #Libya

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Burkina Faso's President Blaise Compaore urged Muslims to refrain from violence on Saturday. From the AP:

Compaore, who is a convert to Islam, said that violence should not be the response of Muslims to provocations, even from the maker of the film of the Prophet Muhammad. Compaore described the filmmaker as a “brainless man who thinks he has the right to despise the religious feelings of others.”

Compaore deplored the street violence of recent days, saying the “credibility and greatness” of Islam is not through violence.

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"There is no religion that condones the targeting of innocent men and women. There is no excuse for attacks on our embassies and consulates. So long as I am commander-in-chief, the United States will never tolerate efforts to harm our fellow Americans."

Watch Obama's full remarks here:

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KHARTOUM, Sept 15 (Reuters) - Sudan has rejected a U.S. request to send a platoon of Marines to bolster security at the U.S. embassy in Khartoum, the state news agency SUNA said on Saturday.

On Friday, a U.S. official told Reuters that Washington would send Marines to Sudan to improve security at the embassy after protesters entered the mission in a demonstration against a film that insults the Prophet Mohammad.

"Sudan is able to protect the diplomatic missions in Khartoum and the state is committed to protecting its guests in the diplomatic corps," Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Karti told SUNA. (Reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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@ latimes : People linked to 'Innocence of Muslims' receive death threats, consultant says http://t.co/gSdQXFDp

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afghanistan protest

Afghans burn an effigy of U.S. President Barack Obama during a protest in Khost, south-east of Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012. A few hundred university students protested against an anti-Islam film which depicts the Prophet Muhammad as a fraud, a womanizer and a madman, shouting "death to America." (AP Photo/Nashanuddin Khan)

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From Reuters:

Afghanistan's Taliban claimed responsibility on Saturday for an attack on a base which U.S. officials said killed two American Marines, saying it was in response to a film that insults the Prophet Mohammad.

Camp Bastion, in southern Helmand province, came under mortar, rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire late on Friday in an attack in which several servicemen were wounded.

"The aim of this attack was revenge against Americans for the anti-Prophet movie," said Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf.

Read more here.

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From the Associated Press:

Riot police clashed with about 200 protesters at the U.S. Consulate in Sydney on Saturday as demonstrations against an anti-Islam film produced in the United States spread to Australia.

Ten Network television news showed a policeman knocked unconscious as the mostly male crowd hurled bottles and other missiles. Many of the protesters were wearing Muslim dress.

Police used pepper spray against the protesters, who chanted "Obama, Obama, we love Osama" and waved placards saying "Behead all those who insult the Prophet."

Read more here.

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From the Associated Press:

Tunisia's governing moderate Islamist party condemned an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Tunis and the neighboring American school, saying such violence threatens the country's progress toward democracy after decades of dictatorship.

Read more here.

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From the Associated Press:

The U.S. is sending more spies, Marines and drones to Libya, trying to speed the search for those who killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, but the investigation is complicated by a chaotic security picture in the post-revolutionary country, and limited American and Libyan intelligence resources.

The CIA has fewer people available to send, stretched thin from tracking conflicts across the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Read more here.

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From the Associated Press:

Pope Benedict XVI appealed Saturday for religious freedom in the Middle East, calling it fundamental for stability in a region bloodied by sectarian strife.

Benedict spoke on the second day of his visit to Lebanon, a country with the largest percentage of Christians in the Middle East. He arrived amid a wave of violent demonstrations over an anti-Islam film across the Muslim world.

"Let us not forget that religious freedom is a fundamental right from which many other rights stem," he said, speaking in French to government officials, foreign diplomats and religious leaders at the president palace in Mount Lebanon in the southern suburbs of Beirut.

Read the whole story here.

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From Reuters:

Clashes near the U.S. Embassy in central Cairo between police and Egyptians incensed over a film denigrating the Prophet Mohammad entered their fourth day early on Saturday, leaving one protester dead and dozens more injured.

The clashes moved to a main road on the banks of the Nile after authorities closed the street leading to the embassy. The protesters, many of whom are intent upon breaking into the embassy, now are seeking alternative routes to the site.

Read the full story here.

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From Reuters:

At least two people were killed and 29 others were wounded on Friday when police fought hundreds of protesters who ransacked the U.S. embassy in Tunisia in their fury over a film denigrating the Prophet Mohammad, state television said.

Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki condemned what he called "an attack against the embassy of a friendly nation".

Read the full story here.

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From the Associated Press:

A U.S. official says an elite Marine rapid response team is headed to Sudan in the wake of violence and protests against the embassy in Khartoum.

The deployment comes as Sudanese police opened fire on protesters trying to climb the walls of the U.S. Embassy.

Read the full story here.

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A 35-year-old protester was killed in the Egyptian capital on Friday as hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the U.S. Embassy clashed with police.

Read the full story here.

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U.S. officials say 55-year-old Nakoula Basseley Nakoula is being investigated for probation violations.

"A source with knowledge of the case confirmed that the probation office was looking specifically into Nakoula's possible involvement in making the film for violations of the terms of his release."

Read the full story here.

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AP video shows a group gathering to protest the attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya:

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@ Reuters : Google rejects White House request to pull Mohammad film clip http://t.co/yi0s0288

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@ AP : BREAKING: US official says 2 Marines killed in attack on NATO base in Afghanistan

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"The people of Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia did not trade the tyranny of a dictator for the tyranny of a mob," Clinton said on Friday at a ceremony for the Americans slain in Libya.

arab protests clinton

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, accompanied by President Barack Obama, speaks during a Transfer of Remains Ceremony, Friday, Sept. 14, 2012, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., marking the return to the United States of the remains of the four Americans killed this week in Benghazi, Libya. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

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