Anti-Islam Filmmaker Faces Prison Time
A California man behind an anti-Islam film that stoked violent protests in the Muslim world was due in court in Los Angeles on Wednesday for a hearing on whether he violated his probation on a bank fraud conviction and should be sent back to prison.
The Egyptian-born man, known publicly as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, has been in federal custody since late last month and was due to appear before a U.S. district court judge under his legal name, Mark Basseley Youssef, court papers showed.
A crudely made 13-minute video attributed to Youssef 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 last month. The violence coincided with an attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya.
U.S. authorities, as outrage against the film mounted, said they were not investigating the film itself. But prosecutors have said they could seek to have Youssef, 55, sent back to prison for up to two years if he is found to have violated his probation.
Under the terms of his release from prison last year, Youssef is barred from using aliases without the permission of a probation officer and was restricted from accessing the Internet. He is facing eight possible probation violations, including the use of aliases, prosecutors said.
“It will be interesting to see what the judge does and what the reaction is around the world,” said Stan Goldman, a Loyola Law School professor.
Goldman said attorneys for Youssef could argue the terms of his 2011 release from prison in the bank fraud case did not apply directly to his recent activities, in which people associated with the film have said he misrepresented himself.
“It’s not exactly like an armed robber on probation, getting caught with an automatic weapon in his possession. It’s a little more technical,” Goldman said.
Youssef was ordered held without bail last month following a brief hearing in which prosecutors accused him of violating probation, and he has since been held at a high-rise federal jail in downtown Los Angeles.
The defendant, who had worked in the gas station industry and most recently lived in a suburb of Los Angeles, declared at the outset of his last hearing that he had changed his name to Mark Basseley Youssef in 2002.
While previous court documents referred to him as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the latest court papers give his name as Youssef.
The probation issues were the latest of Youssef’s legal woes. An actress who says she was duped into appearing in the anti-Islam film has sued him over the matter, identifying him as the film’s 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.