Seen with a young actress who is now living in fear for her life, this is the first picture of the man said to be behind the anti-Islam movie that has triggered violence across the Middle East.
Nakoula Basseley Nakoula – also known as Sam Bacile – was last week named by the FBI as the film-maker responsible for Innocence Of Muslims, which ridicules the prophet Muhammad.
The Mail on Sunday has exclusively obtained this on-set image of him with the film’s star Anna Gurji, who says she was duped by the 55-year-old director.
Nakoula is an Egyptian-born Coptic Christian. Now living in California, he is a convicted drug dealer and conman who was last released from jail in June last year.
The film has ignited anti-US clashes from Morocco to Malaysia. Seven people have been killed, thousands injured and last night the rioting had spread to Sydney, Australia. It was also reported that Sudan had rejected a US request to be allowed to send in Marines to protect its embassy.
In California, 21-year-old Ms Gurji, who plays Muhammad’s child bride, spoke yesterday of her fear of reprisals and how she was ‘betrayed’ by Nakoula. ‘I was playing the youngest bride of a character named George,’ she said. ‘I had no idea George would be changed to Muhammad. I’m locked up in my house. I’m terrified people in the Middle East will blame me.
‘I’m Catholic so they might think I have something against Muslims. I’m taking pills to sleep. I’ve been crying for days. I feel betrayed. My face is stuck on the movie clip. People see that awful film and they see me.’
Ms Gurji said she and her fellow actors believed they were making an action film called Desert Warrior and that Nakoula, or ‘Sam’ as she knew him, never discussed religion.
‘I was told I was to be Hilary, the young bride of a character called George,’ she said. ‘The film was about a comet that falls to Earth in the ancient Middle East. There are different tribes who think the comet is somehow holy and fight over it. There were supposed to be lots of special effects so a lot of the filming was in front of a green screen. It was super low-budget. I was getting $75 [£50] a day and all my scenes were shot with George against the green screen. I had no idea how it would be twisted.
‘Maybe I’m naive but no warning bells went off. I auditioned, showed up and did my lines. None of us involved in it had any idea there was a secret agenda.’
The crudely made 13-minute English-language film, filmed in California and circulated on the Internet under several titles including ‘Innocence of Muslims’, mocks the Prophet Mohammad.
The film sparked 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. 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.
Two attorneys visited Nakoula’s home hours before he was taken in for questioning. They said they were there to consult with him.
The violent protests over the film in Libya caused mob attacks in Benghazi that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other American officials.
The U.S. Embassy in Cairo was attack by protesters yesterday and demonstrations against American consulates spread to Yemen on Thursday and on Friday to several other countries across the Middle East.
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 at least some production on the video was done later that summer.
But the terms of Nakoula’s prison release contain behavior stipulations that bar 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 he broke one or both of these conditions. Violations could result in him being sent back to prison, court records show.