(NEW YORK) — From behind bars, the maker of the anti-Islam movie Innocence of Muslims says he has no regrets.
Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a 55-year-old Egyptian-American Coptic Christian, told The New York Times that he stands by the incendiary movie, which portrays the religion’s beloved Prophet Muhammad as a fraud and a pedophile.
“I thought, before I wrote this script,” said Nakoula in his first public statement since his arrest, “that I should burn myself in a public square to let the American people and the people of the world know this message that I believe in.”
Nakoula said he didn’t regret the film “at all” and wanted to communicate the “actual truth” about Muhammad.
Nakoula was sent to prison earlier this month for violating his probation on a prior federal fraud conviction. He admitted that he lied to his probation officer and used fake names, though prosecutors dropped other counts, which included the accusation that he had lied to authorities about the scope of his role in making Innocence of Muslims.
While there is controversy over whether the video provoked the Benghazi terrorist attacks that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans this past September, the bizarre film undoubtedly provoked a series of deadly protests across the Muslim world.
After a clip was translated into Arabic and broadcast by TV networks in the Middle East, Egyptians stormed the U.S. embassy in Cairo and replaced the American flag with an Islamic banner. Protests spread even as details emerged that showed Innocence of Muslims was an amateurish, low-budget film shot in just over two weeks.
Nakoula, a former gas station manager and cancer survivor, was convicted of intent to manufacture methamphetamine in the 1990s. In 2010, he pleaded no contest to bank fraud. While in prison, said Nakoula, he closely followed the protests against the building of the Park 51 Islamic center near ground zero in New York and planned for his anti-Islam film.
“He said it might have been a blessing to go to prison because he had time to work on the script,” his son told The New York Times. Nakoula also told the Times that he was motivated by violence against his fellow Copts in Egypt, as well as other violent acts by Muslims, including the Ft. Hood massacre of 2009, allegedly committed by U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan.
Many of the people involved in the production of Innocence of Muslims, including cast and crew, say they were not aware of the film’s controversial content.
“They put words in my mouth that were not in the script and I never said,” Cindy Lee Garcia, an actress who starred in the film, told ABC News. She claims that after shooting, dialogue was dubbed over with inflammatory remarks about Islam that were not in the original script.
“Now, I’m sick that people died over this. I’m exhausted and really hurt and angry,” she said. Morris Sadek, an activist Copt from Virginia who helped publicize the trailer on the internet, said he thought the movie was created to raise awareness about the persecution of Copts in Egypt. Joseph Nassralla Abdelmasih, the head of the non-profit organization “Media for Christ,” which provided Nakoula with free studio space, echoed Sadek’s sentiments and asserted that his group provided no cameras or other production assistance, according to The Times.
Nakoula has used multiple aliases over the years. Though he was convicted under the name Nakoula Bassely Nakoula, he told the cast and crew of Innocence of Muslims that his name was Sam Bacile. He changed his name to Mark Bassely Youssef in 2002, and then to Ebrahem Fawzy Youssef in 2009.
Media for Christ and Nakoula’s son did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
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