Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, Sam Bacile: Filmmaker quizzed by feds after linked to anti-Islam video

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Federal officials have interviewed a California man believed to be the maker of an anti-Islam film that ignited a firestorm in the Muslim world, authorities said Saturday.

The questioning came a day after federal officials said they were reviewing the probation of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, who was convicted of bank fraud in 2009 and placed on supervised probation for five years.

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

Steve Whitmore, with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, told CNN that Nakoula had left the local sheriff's station after the federal officials were done interviewing him.

"He is gone and he is free," he said of Nakoula, who was bundled up in a coat, hat and white scarf as he was escorted from the premises by a sheriff's deputy.

Whitmore earlier dismissed reports that Nakoula had been arrested, saying he was never in handcuffs and had left his house willingly to be interviewed.

Karen Redmond, a spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, said Friday that Nakoula's federal probation was under review.

Redmond didn't provide details of why or when the probation review was initiated, or how long 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.

The movie, backed by hardcore anti-Islam groups in the United States, is a low-budget project that was ignored in the United States when trailers were posted on YouTube in July. But after Egyptian television aired certain segments, 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.

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

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 Whitmore. Nakoula 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.

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.

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."

CNN's Amanda Watts, Michael Martinez and Miguel Marquez contributed to this report.

 
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