LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Family members of a California man linked to an anti-Islam film that triggered violent protests across the Muslim world went into hiding on Monday, with sheriff’s deputies escorting them from their home to an undisclosed location, authorities said.
The family of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, was accompanied from their two-story stucco house in the Los Angeles suburb of Cerritos before dawn on Monday, Los Angeles County sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said.
“They are gone,” Whitmore said, adding that deputies gave the family a ride to an undisclosed location to meet Nakoula, who left the home voluntarily on Saturday to be interviewed by federal authorities and has not returned.
Whitmore said he did not know where Nakoula and his family were headed but they were not expected to return to the home in Cerritos, which has been besieged by the media for nearly a week.
“It’s not our concern anymore at all,” Whitmore said.
The 13-minute English-language movie, which was circulated on the Internet under several titles including “Innocence of Muslims,” mocks the Prophet Mohammad and portrays him as a buffoon.
The film helped generate a torrent of violence last week in which the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed in an attack in Benghazi. U.S. and other foreign embassies were stormed in cities in Asia, Africa and the Middle East by furious Muslims.
For many Muslims, any depiction of the prophet is blasphemous. Caricatures deemed insulting in the past have provoked protests and drawn condemnations from officials, preachers, ordinary Muslims and many Christians.
U.S. officials have said authorities were not investigating the film project itself and that even if it was inflammatory or led to violence, simply producing it cannot be considered a crime in the United States, which has strong free speech laws.
But Nakoula, whose name has been widely linked to the film in media reports, was interviewed by federal probation officers on Saturday after leaving the house under police escort.
Nakoula was sentenced to 21 months in prison after he pleaded guilty to bank fraud in 2010, a term that was to be followed by five years on supervised release, according to court documents. He remains on probation in that case.
Authorities have said that probation officials were looking into his possible violations of the terms of his release linked to the making the YouTube film. Those terms restrict him from accessing the Internet or assuming aliases without the approval of probation officer.
The home in Cerritos, which now stands unoccupied, was used in filming a scene from “Innocence of Muslims,” according to a crew member who spoke to Reuters on the condition that his name not be used.
Nakoula has denied involvement in the film in a telephone call to his Coptic Christian bishop in Los Angeles, the bishop told Reuters.
In film clips circulating on YouTube, distinctive front doors shown from the inside in one scene were nearly indistinguishable from the front doors of Nakoula’s house as seen from the outside.
Both have frosted glass, semi-circular cut-outs with stenciled rose designs in the wood double-door entrance.
Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Bill Trott