Filmmaker linked to anti-Islamic movie questioned
Published Saturday, September 15, 2012 10:35AM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, September 15, 2012 10:09PM EDT
Investigators have questioned a southern California filmmaker allegedly linked to an anti-Islamic film that has sparked deadly protests across the Middle East.
Police say U.S. federal probation officers interviewed Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, at a Cerritos, Calif., sheriff’s station in the early morning hours of Saturday.
Federal authorities have identified Nakoula, a self-described Coptic Christian, as the key figure behind "Innocence of Muslims." The film, denigrating Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, has ignited mob violence against U.S. embassies in several countries including Egypt and Libya.
Officials said Nakoula, who was previously convicted of bank fraud, has not been arrested or charged, and went voluntarily to the station.
Federal officials are trying to determine whether he has violated the terms of his five-year-probation, which included not using computers or the Internet and not using fake identities.
According to a federal law enforcement official, Nakoula has been linked to a man using the pseudonym of Sam Bacile, who claims to have written and directed the film.
Authorities questioned Nakoula for about 30 minutes before dropping him off at an undisclosed location, said Steve Whitmore, spokesperson for the Los Angeles County sheriff's department.
Meanwhile, al Qaeda members called for more attacks on American embassies on Saturday.
In a statement posted on Islamic militant websites, al Qaeda's branch in Yemen praised the protests, which led to the death of an American ambassador in Libya, and called for more attacks to expel U.S. embassies from Middle Eastern nations.
Muslims angry over the film took to the streets in more than 20 countries in the Middle East and Southeast Asia on Friday.
While most demonstrations were peaceful, protests in Sudan and Tunisia turned deadly when an angry mob tried to storm Western embassies, killing two demonstrators in each country.
Protesters in Tunisia set an American school on fire, while in Lebanon an American fast-food restaurant was set ablaze and international peacekeepers were attacked in the Sinai.
The U.S. State Department on Saturday ordered non-essential U.S. government staff and family members to leave posts in Sudan and Tunisia, and issued travel warnings to both countries.
And late Saturday, Canada announced it will temporarily close embassies in Libya, Sudan and Egypt “as a safety precaution,” reported CTV’s Richard Madan.
Protests continue in Egypt, Australia
While demonstrations appeared to have dwindled down on Saturday, tensions were high in Cairo as riot police forced protesters away from the U.S. embassy.
“Protesters really just melted away into the city,” CNN reporter Ian Lee told CTV News Channel on Saturday.
Reporting from Cairo, Lee said the order to send the protesters away came from a high-level official. He added that a heavy police presence remains on the streets of the Egypt’s capital.
“Egypt is going through a lot of tough economic times right now and a lot of people around (Tahrir) square and around Cairo said they don’t agree with these protesters because Egypt needs stability and security and these protesters represent chaos,” said Lee.
One of the only reports of violence on Saturday linked to the film came from Sydney, Australia, where riot police clashed with about 200 protesters at the U.S. Consulate.
Local media showed footage of an unconscious police officer in a crowd that hurled bottles and other projectiles at the consulate.
Police used pepper spray against the protesters, who chanted "Obama, Obama, we love Osama" and waved placards saying, "Behead all those who insult the Prophet."
Six police were injured and two protesters were treated for police dog bites, according to a police statement.
U.S. deploys FBI team to Libya
Meanwhile, American resources continue to be funneled into Libya as military officials search for the perpetrators of the deadly attack on the embassy in Benghazi that killed the U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens.
The U.S. has already deployed an FBI investigation team to track al Qaeda sympathizers thought to be responsible for turning the demonstration over the anti-Islamic film into a violent, co-ordinated militant attack on the consulate.
Stevens and three other embassy employees were killed after a barrage of small arms, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars tore into the consulate buildings in Benghazi on Tuesday, the 11th anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
U.S. President Barack Obama said in a White House Rose Garden statement on Wednesday that those responsible would be brought to justice.
Intelligence officials are reviewing telephone and radio intercepts, computer traffic, satellite images and other clues from the days before the attack, however investigators have found no evidence that pins the attack on a particular group.
One of the leading suspects in the Libyan attack is an Islamic militant group Ansar al-Shariah led by former Guantanamo detainee Sufyan bin Qumu. The group denied responsibility in a video Friday but did acknowledge its fighters were in the area during what it called a "popular protest" at the consulate, according to U.S. intelligence officials.
With files from The Associated Press