Convicted fraudster quizzed over anti-Islamic film

AN AMERICAN suspected of being involved in the making of an anti-Islamic film that has sparked violent protests across the Middle East and North Africa was questioned at a Los Angeles police station yesterday.

AN AMERICAN suspected of being involved in the making of an anti-Islamic film that has sparked violent protests across the Middle East and North Africa was questioned at a Los Angeles police station yesterday.

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a convicted bank fraudster, voluntarily left his home in the early hours of yesterday morning in the Los Angeles suburb of Cerritos.

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The 55-year-old, who has denied involvement in the film in a phone call to his Coptic Christian bishop, was ushered out of his home and into a waiting car by several sheriff’s deputies, his face shielded from waiting reporters and film crews by a scarf, hat and sunglasses.

The crudely made 13-minute English-language film, set in California and circulated on the internet under several titles including Innocence Of Muslims, mocks the Prophet Muhammad.

It sparked a violent protest at the US consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi, during which the ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed on Tuesday.

Protests have spread to other countries, including violent clashes in Sydney yesterday, and across the Muslim world.

Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy Don Walker said Nakoula was interviewed by federal probation officers in relation to possible probation violations stemming from the making of the film.

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 Christians.

US officials said authorities were not investigating the film project itself, and that even if it was inflammatory or led to violence, simply producing it could not be considered a crime in the US.

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.

Terms of Nakoula’s prison release contain behaviour stipulations that bar him from accessing the internet or assuming aliases without his probation officer’s approval.

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.

On Friday, violent protests outside the US embassy in the capital Tunis were met with tear gas and gunshots, leaving two people dead, 29 others injured and plumes of black smoke hanging over the city..

The American School in Tunis was badly damaged and is now “unusable”, US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

In Egypt, riot police clashed with hundreds of protesters streets away from the US embassy in Cairo, killing one protester, as the president broadcast an appeal to Muslims to protect embassies and tried to patch up strained relations with Washington.