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Filmmaker linked to anti-Islam production faces probation review

By Michael Martinez and Miguel Marquez, CNN
updated 10:57 AM EDT, Sat September 15, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Nakoula Basseley Nakoula served a year in federal prison for 2009 bank fraud
  • NEW: Officials weren't able to immediately determine whether he paid $794,700 in restitution
  • A review of his federal probation is ongoing
  • Federal officials consider Nakoula the person behind "Innocence of Muslims"

Los Angeles (CNN) -- Federal officials are reviewing the probation of a local man believed to the maker of an anti-Islam film that ignited a firestorm in the Muslim world, a court spokeswoman said Friday.

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula was convicted in 2009 of bank fraud and was placed on supervised probation for five years.

Federal officials consider Nakoula to be the filmmaker behind the anti-Islam "Innocence of Muslims."

A review of his federal probation is ongoing, said Karen Redmond, spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

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Pakistani demonstrators beat an effigy of Florida pastor Terry Jones during a protest against an anti-Islam film in Lahore on Monday, September 24. More than 50 people have died around the world in violence linked to protests against the low-budget movie, which mocks Islam and the Prophet Mohammed, since the first demonstrations erupted on September 11. See more of CNN's best photography. Pakistani demonstrators beat an effigy of Florida pastor Terry Jones during a protest against an anti-Islam film in Lahore on Monday, September 24. More than 50 people have died around the world in violence linked to protests against the low-budget movie, which mocks Islam and the Prophet Mohammed, since the first demonstrations erupted on September 11. See more of CNN's best photography.
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Redmond didn't provide details of why and when the probation review was initiated, or how long would the process would take.

While on probation, Nakoula can't access computers or any device that can access the Internet without approval from his probation officer.

Nakoula served one year in federal prison at Lompoc, California, but officials couldn't immediately determine whether Nakoula paid any of the court-ordered restitution of $794,700, according to probation department officials and court records.

Since notice of the film spread through YouTube, Nakoula has been out of public view and ensconced with his family in their home in Cerritos, California, where journalists have been gathered seeking information about his elusive background.

Cerritos is about a 20-mile drive southeast of downtown Los Angeles.

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The movie, backed by hardcore anti-Islam groups in the United States, is a low-budget project that was ignored in the United States, but after trailers were posted on YouTube in July, violent protests erupted in Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Morocco, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Violent mobs attacked the U.S. Consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi, leaving the ambassador and three other American men dead.

The amateurish film portrays the Prophet Mohammed as a womanizer, buffoon, ruthless killer and child molester. Islam categorically forbids any depictions of Mohammed, and blasphemy is an incendiary taboo in Muslim world.

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This week, the FBI contacted the filmmaker because of the potential for threats, a federal law enforcement official told CNN Thursday. But he is not under investigation.

One of the few public reports about Nakoula emerged this week when he called the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Wednesday night to report a disturbance, said spokesman Steve Whitmore. He wanted local police to protect him.

When news of his movie first broke, the filmmaker identified himself as Sam Bacile and told the Wall Street Journal that he was a 52-year-old Israeli-American real estate developer from California. He said Jewish donors had financed his film.

But Israel's Foreign Ministry said there was no record of a Sam Bacile with Israeli citizenship.

Disagreement over how attack began

A production staff member who worked on the film in its initial stages told CNN that an entirely different name was filed on the paperwork for the Screen Actors Guild: Abenob Nakoula Bassely. A public records search showed an Abanob B. Nakoula residing at the same address as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula.

He believed the filmmaker was a Coptic Christian and when the two spoke on the phone during production, the filmmaker said he was in Alexandria, Egypt, raising money for the film.

In Egypt, tension has emerged in recent decades between Muslims and the minority Copts.

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Another staffer who worked on the film said he knew the producer as Sam Bassil. That's how he signed a personal check to pay staff.

When CNN inquired about Sam Bassil, the U.S. Attorney's Office sent a copy of a 2009 indictment. Those court documents showed the bank fraud conviction for Nakoula Basseley Nakoula.

Several other aliases -- Mark Basseley Youssef, Yousseff M. Basseley, Nicola Bacily and Malid Ahlawi -- were all listed as aliases in the indictment. Other court documents listed Thomas J. Tanas, Ahmad Hamdy and Erwin Salameh also as aliases.

In his interview with the Wall Street Journal, the filmmaker characterized his movie as "a political effort to call attention to the hypocrisies of Islam."

"Islam is a cancer," he said. "The movie is a political movie. It's not a religious movie."

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CNN's Moni Basu and Chuck Conder contributed to this report.

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