Man behind anti-Islam film that stoked riots has no regrets: NYT

Tue Nov 27, 2012 1:11am IST

A Muslim protester holds up a banner outside the U.S. embassy in Bangkok September 27, 2012. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj/Files

A Muslim protester holds up a banner outside the U.S. embassy in Bangkok September 27, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Damir Sagolj/Files

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(Reuters) - The Egyptian-born Coptic Christian who made the anti-Islam film that sparked protests across the Muslim world has no regrets about his insulting portrayal of the Prophet Mohammad, according to an interview with the New York Times.

In his first public comments since the 14-minute trailer for his film, "Innocence of Muslims," gained notoriety in September, Mark Basseley Youssef told the newspaper he wanted to reveal what he called "the actual truth" about Mohammad and raise awareness of the violence committed "under the sign of Allah."

The film portrayed Mohammad as a womanizer, ruthless killer and child molester. The film touched off a torrent of anti-American unrest in Arab and Muslim countries. For many Muslims, any depiction of the prophet is considered blasphemous.

In explaining his reasons for the film, he cited "atrocities" by Muslims. After a Muslim gunman killed 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas in 2009, "I became even more upset and enraged," he said in written comments conveyed to the Times through his attorney. A Times request to interview him in person was blocked by prison authorities.

"I thought, before I wrote this script 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," said Youssef.

Youssef, a former gasoline station owner identified in some public records by his birth name, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, received a one-year prison sentence in early November for violating terms of his 2011 supervised release from prison on a bank fraud conviction. In the course of making the film, he made use of false identities and lied to his probation officer, both of which were prohibited under his probation.

As early as 2008, Youssef had completed a brief treatment for his movie, which he originally wanted to call "The First Terrorist." After going through five versions of the script, he raised $80,000 to finance the film, apparently through his second ex-wife's Egyptian family and donations from other Copts.

The shoot for "Innocence of Muslims" lasted only 15 days. Although only the film's 14-minute trailer has been released online, a feature-length movie does exist, running about one hour and 40 minutes, the newspaper said.

Some actors were under the impression that they were performing in an adventure drama called "Desert Warriors" whose villain was named George. Youssef, who worked on the film under the alias Sam Baccil, later dubbed the name Muhammad whenever an actor said George.

At least one actress has sued Youssef, claiming her image and reputation were harmed and her safety put in jeopardy, citing a religious edict she said an Egyptian cleric had issued against anyone connected with the movie. Youssef, however, has no qualms about how he handled the cast.

"They had signed contracts before they went in front of any camera, and these contracts in no way prevented changes to the script or movie," Youssef told the New York Times.

(Editing by Dan Burns and Cynthia Osterman)

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