(RNS) Coptic Christian leaders in the United States distanced themselves from an anti-Muslim film that has sparked protests in more than 24 countries, and denounced the Copts who reportedly produced and promoted the film.
"We reject any allegation that the Coptic Orthodox community has contributed to the production of this film," the Coptic Orthodox Archdiocese of America said in statement on Friday (Sept. 14). "Indeed, the producers of this film have taken these unwise and offensive actions independently and should be held responsible for their own actions."
Joseph Nassralla Abdelmasih, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula and Morris Sadek -- all Coptic Christians who live in the U.S. -- have emerged as the producers and promoters of the anti-Muslim film. Called "Innocence of Muslims," the crude film depicts Islam's Prophet Muhammad as a bumbling sexual pervert.
Protests against the film began in Egypt on Tuesday and have since spread to more than two dozen countries, including Libya, Yemen, Bangladesh, Sudan, Qatar, Kuwait, Jerusalem and Iraq, according to international reports. Four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, were killed in Libya on Tuesday. The Obama administration is investigating whether that attack was tied the film.
Joseph Nassralla, as he is known, heads a Christian charity. Nakoula is a convicted felon. Both live near Los Angeles, according to reports. Sadek is an incendiary activist who lives near Washington. Coptic leaders said they are investigating what ties -- if any -- the men have to mainstream Copts in the United States.
There are about 300,000 Copts in the United States, most of whom live in Los Angeles and the Northeast. Copts in Egypt, where the faith was born, regularly face discrimination and violence at the hands of the Muslim majority, according to the State Department.
Bishop Serapion of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Los Angeles, Southern California and Hawaii said he "strongly rejects dragging the respectable Copts of the Diaspora" into the controversy.
"The producers of this movie should be responsible for their actions," Serapion said in a statement. "The name of our blessed parishioners should not be associated with the efforts of individuals who have ulterior motives."