The identity of the filmmaker whose anti-Islam movie was initially blamed for attacks on the U.S. embassy that killed four members of the diplomatic mission in Libya on Sept. 11 remains a mystery.
Earlier press reports quoting a Sam Bacile, who identified himself as the filmmaker of “Innocence of Muslims” in interviews with the Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press, couldn’t be verified by Bloomberg News.
The actual filmmaker fears for his life, and that is why he falsely told reporters he was an Israeli-American named Sam Bacile, according to another man who said he was a consultant to the movie.
“It’s a pseudonym,” Steve Klein, a Southern California insurance salesman and anti-Islamic activist who says he advised the filmmaker on finding actors, said in a telephone interview from his office in Hemet. “This guy’s terrified. He’s gone underground.”
Klein’s involvement with the movie couldn’t be independently verified by Bloomberg News.
A 14-minute clip, posted on Google Inc. (GOOG:US)’s YouTube, shows a fictional attack by Muslims on a Christian family followed by an account of the origins of Islam depicting Muhammad as a womanizer. YouTube blocked access to the clip in Egypt and Libya following attacks on the U.S. missions in those countries.
In a follow-up story by the AP that ran late on Sept. 12, the news agency said its search for those behind the film led to a Coptic Christian in California who had been convicted of financial crimes.
Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, told the AP in an interview that he helped to manage the production. He denied directing the movie, the AP said. It said it reached him by tracing the address through the cell phone number it used to call Bacile.
The movie was filmed in Los Angeles County in 2011, the Los Angeles Times reported. Actors were duped into making a movie that attacked Islam and inflammatory dialogue was dubbed in later, the newspaper said, citing an unidentified crew member.
The embassy protests in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia recalled the worldwide demonstrations in 2005 after a Danish newspaper published cartoons depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad.
The four-hour assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three embassy employees. It may have been orchestrated by groups tied to Al- Qaeda, lawmakers said as U.S. officials began to investigate the incident.
The attack bore the hallmarks of an Al-Qaeda operation and may have been carried out by the group’s North Africa affiliate to mark the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S., said Michigan Republican Representative Mike Rogers, chairman of the House intelligence committee.
The conflict threatens U.S. efforts to establish new ties in a region where leaders including Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, a longtime U.S. ally, and Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi were toppled last year and Islamist parties are growing in influence.
The Wall Street Journal and the AP earlier ran interviews with a man who said he was the filmmaker, identifying himself as Sam Bacile, a California real estate developer and Israeli- American who made the movie because “Islam is a cancer.”
The man who called himself Bacile is, in fact, a Christian refugee from a Middle Eastern country outside Israel, Klein said.
“I don’t know his denomination,” he said. “I don’t ask that of people I work with.”
Klein, 62, heads the group Concerned Citizens for the First Amendment, which stages rallies and educational events, contending Islam is a threat to U.S. democracy and freedom.
He said he read the script before the movie was shot and advised the filmmaker to recruit actors through a Hollywood talent agency. Klein didn’t know the name of the agency.
No one named Bacile is a licensed real estate broker or salesman in California, according to the state Department of Real Estate. Israel has found no record so far of a citizen fitting that description, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Yigal Palmor said.
“No one here has heard of this person,” Palmor said in a phone interview. “Even if he happens to hold an Israeli passport, he acted only as an individual and there is no connection with Israel here.”
The original title was “The Innocence of Bin Laden,” which the filmmaker expected would attract an audience of radical Islamists who would become disillusioned about their faith after watching, Klein said.
“Sam had a crew of people passing out fliers around the dangerous mosques in California, trying to get these folks who love Osama Bin Laden who would come to cheer Osama Bin Laden,” Klein said. “But the movie was going to expose all the stuff that Muhammad really did, like murder and pedophilia and stuff like that.”
The movie had one theatrical showing at a cinema on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, Klein said.
“I got there about a half hour before the movie started and stayed a half hour after it started and I saw zero -- nada, none, no people -- go inside,” Klein said.
The lack of interest in the movie left the filmmaker depressed and embarrassed, Klein said. He said he didn’t know how much the budget was or who gave money for production. He said he didn’t invest.
“I felt bad for him,” Klein said. “I said good idea, but sometimes businesses and movies fail.”
In 2011, Klein’s group unsuccessfully sought to block construction of the Islamic Center of Temecula Valley, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) southwest of his Hemet office.
The city council took protesters’ concerns seriously, said Councilman Mike Naggar, who doesn’t personally know Klein.
“For us it was a land-use decision,” Naggar said in an e- mail. “That said, we did not ignore some of the concerns raised in the meeting -- terrorism, etc. We recognized that there may be valid concerns, absent a violation of the law this is not a matter for a city council but the DOJ or the FBI.”
The mosque is scheduled to break ground Sept. 28, according to Grant Yates, a city spokesman.
Rabbi Nachum Shifren, a 2010 California state senate candidate from Santa Monica, joined Klein to oppose construction of the Islamic Center.
“Steve’s a patriot and a true American, a no nonsense guy,” Shifren, who is nicknamed the Surfing Rabbi because he runs a surfing school, said in a telephone interview. He said he wasn’t involved in the film’s production.
To contact the reporter on this story: John Gittelsohn in Los Angeles at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anthony Palazzo at email@example.com; Kara Wetzel at firstname.lastname@example.org