Anti-American protests have erupted in the Middle East over a crudely made film mocking the prophet Muhammad, resulting in violent embassy protests around the Middle East, fallout in the U.S. presidential campaign and heightened security at U.S. facilities abroad.
THE FILM: Fourteen-minute clips of the amateurish anti-Islam film “Innocence of Muslims” have been posted on YouTube. The clips depict the prophet Muhammad as a fraud, a womanizer and a madman in an overtly mocking way, showing him having sex and calling for massacres. Muslims find it offensive to depict Muhammad in any fashion, much less in an insulting way. Google Inc., owner of YouTube, has pulled down the video in Egypt, but it is still accessible in the U.S. and other countries. The film supposedly runs two hours. Film industry groups and permit agencies haven’t been able to find records of a project called “Innocence of Muslims,” though a Los Angeles film permit agency did find a record of a movie filmed in Los Angeles last year with the working title “Desert Warriors.” The film apparently had a brief run at the Vine Theater, a faded Hollywood movie house. The YouTube clips are called “Muhammad Movie Trailer” and “The Real Life of Muhammad.”
THE FILMMAKER: Federal authorities say the shadowy figure behind the film is Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, a California man once convicted of financial crimes and prohibited from using computers or the Internet as part of his sentence. Authorities have connected Nakoula to the persona of Sam Bacile, someone who initially claimed to The Associated Press to be the writer and director of the film. The YouTube clips were posted under the username “sam bacile.” Nakoula told the AP in an interview Wednesday that he managed logistics for the company that made the film. He denied he was Bacile and said he didn’t direct the film, though he said he knew Bacile. Bacile turned out to be a false identity, and the AP traced a cellphone number used by Bacile to a home where a reporter located Nakoula. Court papers in 2010 said Nakoula had many aliases, including Nicola Bacily, Robert Bacily and Erwin Salameh. The man identifying himself as Bacile claimed to be an Israeli Jew, but evidence shows he is a Coptic Christian. He told the AP he is a real estate developer, but his name does not appear in searches of California real estate licenses.
THE PROTESTS: The film has sparked assaults across the Middle East. In Libya on Tuesday, the storming of the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi killed the American ambassador, Chris Stevens, and three other embassy staff members. Libyan officials say the attack in Benghazi was a planned operation by heavily armed militants that may have been timed to mark the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks on the U.S. and that the militants used civilian protesters as cover for their action. In Egypt, angry youths climbed the walls of the U.S Embassy on Tuesday in Cairo and brought down the flag. In Yemen, hundreds of protesters angered by the film stormed the U.S. Embassy on Thursday in the capital of Sanaa and burned the American flag, chanting “death to America” and “death to Israel.” In Iraq, several hundred Shiite hardliners protested Thursday in Baghdad’s Shiite stronghold of Sadr City, and the leader of an Iranian-backed Shiite militia, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, threatened anti-U.S. attacks. And in Iran, about 50 protesters shouted, “Death to America” outside the Swiss Embassy, which looks after U.S. interests there. Riot police kept the crowd at bay.
THE VICTIMS: Four Americans were killed in the attack on the Embassy in Libya. Three Americans were wounded, U.S. officials said. Stevens, a 52-year-old career diplomat, died after he became separated from other American officials during the attack. The northern California native had been dispatched to Benghazi amid heavy fighting in April 2011. Also killed was Sean Smith, 34, an Air Force veteran who had worked as an information management officer for 10 years in diplomatic posts in Brussels, Baghdad and Pretoria, South Africa. Smith was well known in the online video game community. The State Department late Thursday identified the other two Americans: Glen A. Doherty and Tyrone S. Woods, both former Navy SEALs who were providing security at the consulate.
THE FALLOUT: Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney seized on the attacks Wednesday as an issue in the campaign, accusing President Barack Obama of apologizing for American values because of a conciliatory statement from the U.S. mission in Cairo. Romney said Obama’s first reaction was to sympathize with the attackers rather than to condemn the attacks. The statement read: “The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.” But it was issued to condemn anti-Muslim religious incitement as demonstrations against the film took place near the Cairo embassy and before demonstrators had breached the embassy walls — and even before the attack in Libya. The GOP nominee came under fire for his comments; Obama said in an interview with CBS News’ “60 Minutes” that the episode showed Romney’s penchant for having “a tendency to shoot first and aim later.” Romney toned down his criticism Thursday and tried to shift the campaign focus back to the economy. Obama, meanwhile, ordered increased security at American embassies and consulates around the world Thursday following the attack and urged its citizens abroad to be vigilant. His administration sent two warships to the Libyan coast, ready to respond to any mission ordered by the president, and 50 Marines were sent to the Libyan capital of Tripoli to help with security. Obama told voters campaigning Thursday in Colorado that the Benghazi Consulate killers will be brought to justice and that protecting Americans serving abroad is one of his highest priorities.