Los Angeles: An Egyptian-American man behind an anti-Islam film that has stoked violent protests across the Muslim world was arrested on Thursday in California for allegedly violating his probation, and a federal judge ordered him jailed without bond.
Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, was taken into custody at an undisclosed location by US marshals and brought to court in Los Angeles still wearing his street clothes but handcuffed and shackled at the waist.
Nakoula has been under investigation by probation officials looking into whether he violated the terms of his 2011 release from prison on a bank fraud conviction while making the film, though authorities have said they were not probing the movie itself.
“The court has a lack of trust in the defendant at this time,” US magistrate judge Suzanne Segal said in refusing Nakoula’s request for bail at a hearing in US district court.
His crudely made 13-minute video was filmed in California and circulated online under several titles including Innocence of Muslims. It portrays the Prophet Mohammad as a fool and a sexual deviant.
The clip sparked a torrent of anti-American unrest in Egypt, Libya and dozens of other Muslim countries over the past two weeks. The violence coincided with an attack on US diplomatic facilities in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including the US ambassador to Libya.
Nakoula, under the terms of his release from jail, has been barred from accessing the Internet or using aliases without the permission of a probation officer, court records show. He now faces eight probation violation accusations.
In denying his request for bail, Segal called him a flight risk and said the Coptic Christian filmmaker who most recently lived in the Los Angeles suburb of Cerritos had “engaged in a lengthy pattern of deception”, including using several aliases.
Defense says jail dangerous for Nakoula
Nakoula has stayed out of the public eye for much of the past two weeks, amid outrage over the film. Last week, Pakistani railways minister Ghulam Ahmad Bilour offered $100,000 to anyone who kills the maker of the video.
The Pakistani Prime Minister’s office later distanced itself from that statement.
A lawyer for Nakoula expressed concern in court on Thursday for his client’s safety and asked that the hearing be closed to the media.
Reporters were not allowed into the hearing, but watched from a specially arranged viewing room a block away, and the judge ordered that a camera filming the proceedings for closed-circuit viewing not show Nakoula’s face.
Defense attorney Steve Seiden, in asking for Nakoula’s release on $10,000 bond, argued unsuccessfully that he had stayed in touch with probation officials even while in hiding.
“It’s a danger for him to be in custody at Metropolitan Detention Center due to the large Muslim population there,” Seiden said, referring to the federal jail in downtown Los Angeles where Nakoula would likely be housed.
But prosecutors said Nakoula, who could be sent back to prison for up to two years if he is found to have violated the terms of his release, had been dishonest with the court, even about his name.
“Most specifically, he did not accurately present himself as who he was to the people he cast in the film,” said assistant US attorney Robert Dugdale, adding that in his view Nakoula would be safer behind bars.
The probation issues were the latest of Nakoula’s legal woes. On Wednesday, an actress who says she was duped into appearing in the film sued Nakoula, who she identified as the producer. Cindy Lee Garcia also named YouTube and its parent company Google Inc. as defendants in the case.
Google has refused to remove the film from YouTube, despite pressure from the White House and others to take it down, though the company has blocked the trailer in Egypt, Libya and other Muslim countries. Reuters