Los Angeles: A California man convicted of bank fraud was taken in for questioning on Saturday by officers investigating possible probation violations stemming from the making of an anti-Islam video that triggered violent protests in the Muslim world.
Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, voluntarily left his home in the early hours of Saturday morning for the meeting in a sheriff’s station in the Los Angeles suburb of Cerritos, Los Angeles county sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said.
“He will be interviewed by federal probation officers,” Whitmore said. He said Nakoula had not been placed under arrest but would not be returning home immediately. “He was never put in handcuffs... It was all voluntary.”
Nakoula, 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 by a scarf, hat and sunglasses.
The crudely made 13-minute English-language video, which was 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 US consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi during which the US ambassador and three other Americans were killed on Tuesday. Protests have spread to other countries across the Muslim world.
US officials said authorities were not investigating the film project itself, and have said that even if it was inflammatory or led to violence, simply producing it cannot be considered a crime under US law.
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 either or both of these conditions. Violations could result in him being sent back to prison, court records show.
The film itself, posted on the Internet since July, has been attributed to a man by the name of Sam Bacile, which at least two people linked to the film have said was likely an alias.
A telephone number said to belong to Bacile, given to Reuters by US-based Coptic Christian activist Morris Sadek who said he had promoted the film, was later traced back to a person who shares the Nakoula residence. Reuters