AP Solves Mystery of Muslims Filmmaker

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Sept. 13 2012 11:19 AM

The AP Solves the Mystery of the Man Behind Innocence of Muslims

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A protester waves a flag outside the gate of the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen, during a protest over a film mocking Islam on Thursday.

Photo by Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images.

It looks like the Associated Press has solved the mystery of who was behind the anti-Islam film believed to have sparked this week's violent protests at U.S. missions in Egypt, Libya, and throughout the Middle East.

That man is Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a 55-year-old Coptic Christian with a criminal past who lives in California, according to the news wire's digging, which has been backed up by a federal law enforcement official.

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In an interview with the AP, Nakoula admitted to providing logistical support for the production of Innocence of Muslims but denied being "Sam Bacile," the name given as the film's maker. But the evidence cobbled together by AP reporters Gillian Flaccus and Stephen Braun suggests otherwise.

The AP was one of a handful of media outlets to publish an interview early Wednesday with a man who claimed to be Bacile. Reporters traced the cellphone number used during that interview to Nakoula's address and, once there, noticed that Nakoula covered up his middle name of "Basseley" with his thumb when displaying his driver's license.

A little more digging on the part of Flaccus and Braun led to the discovery that Nakoula pleaded no contest in 2010 to bank fraud charges, had used numerous aliases in the past, and had a number of connections to the Bacile persona. An unnamed U.S. law enforcement official later confirmed to the AP that they had the right man.

Religion Dispatch's Sarah Posner appears to have been the first reporter to raise doubts about Bacile on Wednesday, noting that the man who spoke with the media gave conflicting details about himself.

Over the course of the day, those doubts grew, with reporters noting that despite a claim that the film cost $5 million—which "Bacile" claimed to have raised from 100 Israeli donors—it had comically poor production value.

A 13-minute trailer for the film portrays Mohammed as a pedophile-appeasing, bumbling spreader of false doctrine. Notably, as On the Media spotted, all of the more controversial lines in the trailer were dubbed in later, apparently to keep the film's actors and crew from knowing what they were working on. 

Nakoula apparently went to Terry Jones, the Florida-based, Quran-burning pastor, a few weeks ago for help promoting the film. In an interview with the Daily Beast, Jones admitted that the film's negative portrayal of the Mohammed could cause violence, but he said he does not regret exercising free speech.

Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City.