From Dominic Patten in Los Angeles & Nancy Tartaglione in Europe:
FRIDAY PM, 39TH UPDATE WRITETHRU: U.S. intelligence officials issued a statement today saying they now believe the 9/11 attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya was a “deliberate and organized terrorist attack” and not sparked by Muslim reaction to the American-made film Innocence Of Muslims. The statement by the office of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper acknowledged that it represented a change in the U.S. intelligence assessment of how and why the attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans happened. A spokesman for Clapper’s office says U.S. agencies initially believed the attack had begun spontaneously after protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo over the film that lampoons the Prophet Mohammad. But as more was learned, officials revised their initial assessment to reflect new information that it was a deliberate and organized terrorist attack carried out by extremists. He said it remains unclear if any individual or specific group ordered the attack.
Following President Barack Obama’s address to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, a right-wing Pakistani Islamist told Reuters the president’s statements “have caused a religious war.” In Tuesday remarks, Obama explained why the Innocence Of Muslims video has not been banned in the U.S., citing the Constitutional right to free speech. On Wednesday, Hafiz Saeed, who has been accused by India of masterminding a 2008 attack in Mumbai that killed 166 people, called for the filmmakers to be handed over “to us” if the U.S. can’t take tough action against them, Reuters reports. India has repeatedly called on Pakistan to bring Saeed, who has denied any wrongdoing, to justice and Washington has offered a $10M reward for information leading to his capture.
Also in Pakistan, the Taliban has said it is granting “amnesty” to Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, the cabinet minister who offered $100,000 to anyone who kills the maker of the anti-Islam film. Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan told The Associated Press that the minister’s views represent the true spirit of Islam and thus he has been removed him from their hit list. The Pakistani government has formally distanced itself from the minister’s remarks, saying the bounty reflected Bilour’s personal view and was not Pakistan’s. On Saturday, Bilour acknowledged that encouraging murder was illegal but said he was willing to go to the gallows in defense of the Prophet Mohammad. Separately, the AP reports that a breakaway faction of the Afghan Taliban announced its own bounty for those behind the film and is offering almost $500K in gold. The Dadullah Group, which broke away from the Afghan Taliban this year in protest of reconciliation talks with the U.S., offered 17.6 pounds of gold to anyone who kills the film’s creators.
Innocence Of Muslims actress Cindy Lee Garcia filed another lawsuit Wednesday (read it here) in federal court in a renewed effort to get the video removed from YouTube. The suit names YouTube, its parent company Google and purported filmmaker Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. Last week a California judge denied Garcia’s request to have YouTube take down the video. As in her previous lawsuit, Garcia alleges fraud, libel and unfair business practices. But her federal lawsuit also asserts a copyright claim to her performance in the video. Garcia claims she was duped into appearing in the film that eventually became Innocence of Muslims.
Garcia says that as far as she knows a full film was never completed, and that the producer known as Sam Bacile (aka Nakoula) told her in a telephone call he made the film because “he was tired of radical Muslims killing innocent people.” Garcia maintains that since the amateurish and explicit film — which ridicules the Prophet Mohammad as a womanizer, a homosexual and a child molester — went global online she lost her job and that “she has been subjected to credible death threats and is in fear for her life and the life and safety of anyone associated with her.”
Nakoula, the purported architect behind Innocence Of Muslims, has been in hiding since he was voluntarily interviewed by federal authorities nearly two weeks ago and has since put his Cerritos home – where some of the video was shot – up for sale. Federal officials continue to look into whether he violated probation on a check fraud conviction by uploading the video.
In his address on Tuesday, President Obama called the trailer a “crude and disgusting video” whose message “must be rejected by all who respect our common humanity.” As to why the U.S. has not banned the video that was made in California and which has been the catalyst for violent and deadly rioting in more than 30 countries beginning with Egypt and Libya on 9/11, he said, “The strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech,” Obama said. Here are more of his remarks:
“I know there are some who ask why we don’t just ban such a video. The answer is enshrined in our laws: our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech. Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offense. Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs. Moreover, as President of our country, and Commander-in-Chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day, and I will always defend their right to do so. Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views – even views that we disagree with…
“I know that not all countries in this body share this understanding of the protection of free speech. Yet in 2012, at a time when anyone with a cell phone can spread offensive views around the world with the click of a button, the notion that we can control the flow of information is obsolete. The question, then, is how we respond. And on this we must agree: there is no speech that justifies mindless violence.
“There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents. There is no video that justifies an attack on an Embassy. There is no slander that provides an excuse for people to burn a restaurant in Lebanon, or destroy a school in Tunis, or cause death and destruction in Pakistan.”
Obama’s remarks echoed those of U.S. Secretary Of State Hillary Clinton who early on said, “Now, I know it is hard for some people to understand why the United States cannot or does not just prevent these kinds of reprehensible videos from ever seeing the light of day. I would note that in today’s world with today’s technologies, that is impossible. But even if it were possible, our country does have a long tradition of free expression which is enshrined in our Constitution and our law, and we do not stop individual citizens from expressing their views no matter how distasteful they may be.”
Also on Tuesday, a Brazilian court ordered YouTube to pull the trailer from its website and gave it ten days to do so. A lawsuit against the film and YouTube parent Google was brought by the National Islamic Union, a Brazilian Muslim group which said posting the video was a violation of the constitutional right to freedom of religion. Judge Gilson Delgado Miranda said in his decision that the case juxtaposed freedom of expression and the need to protect people from action that might incite religious discrimination, Reuters reports. However, he added that banning something illegal should not “offend” freedom of thought and expression.
YouTube’s compliance with the order will mean that the video and/or the site is now blocked in Brazil, Iran, Libya, Egypt, Indonesia, India, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Yemen, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In Iran, Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Mohammad Hosseini blasted the U.S. administration for taking no official stance against the film, the Iranian Students’ News Agency reported. The country has officially decided to boycott the 2013 Academy Awards to protest Innocence Of Muslims. Hossemi urged other Muslim countries to follow Iran’s lead to show their protest. It already had picked A Cube Of Sugar as the foreign-language submission. Last year, Iran’s A Separation won the foreign-language film Oscar, a first for the country.
Meanwhile, a newly formed unit of the Libyan Army, The National Mobile Force, has evicted militias in nonviolent raids in and around Tripoli. Two hardline groups are among those who have conceded to disperse, including Ansar al Sharia, CNN reported. Washington blames Ansar al-Sharia for the attack on the U.S. consulate which killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans on 9/11. On Friday night, protesters drove Islamist militias out of Benghazi where the raft of violence began with the 9/11 attack. Thousands of Libyans marched in Benghazi on Friday in support of democracy and against the Islamist militias.
On Sunday, Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmandinejad criticized Innocence Of Muslims and the unrest it has spawned. Calling the film “ugly,” he told CNN’s Piers Morgan, “We condemn any type of extremism… We also believe that this must also be resolved in a humane atmosphere, in a participatory environment and we do not like anyone losing their lives or being killed for any reason, anywhere in the world.”
In other weekend developments, Coptic Christian activist Nader Fawzy on Saturday told a Toronto news conference he feared for his life because of threats from Egypt. The government there has issued arrest warrants for Fawzy and another Egyptian-born Canadian, Jacques Attalla of Montreal, claiming they were involved in the film. Both men deny having anything to do with it. They fear the warrants have made them targets for Muslim extremists. In total, 8 warrants were issued on allegations linked to the film, including one for Nakoula and one for Florida-based American pastor Terry Jones. All face charges of harming national unity, insulting and publicly attacking Islam and spreading false information.
While violence has calmed some, protests in Pakistan last Friday led to the death of between 12 and 19 people. It was the worst single day of violence since the video spread. The New York Times reported. Two movie theaters were torched in Peshawar and three were burned in Karachi, according to CNN. It didn’t matter that Pakistan’s government had declared a “Day of Love for the Prophet Mohammad” and shut mobile-phone services in its major cities and closed roads leading to U.S. diplomatic posts to achieve peace. To that end, the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan began airing TV ads on Thursday featuring clips of President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemning the anti-Islam video. But the spots did little to calm unrest.
Embassies have been on alert for almost two weeks now. Last week, the U.S. closed its consulate in Indonesia’s third-largest city Medan as protests continued there. The State Department had already called for the removal of non-essential personnel from some of its missions with Germany following suit. France closed embassies and schools in 20 countries on Friday, after French magazine Charlie Hebdo published cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Mohammad. French authorities also rejected a request to hold a march against the film in Paris.
During the first week that the video began to spread, federal authorities interviewed presumed producer Nakoula and are determining whether he violated his probation. He served 21 months in prison on 2009 federal bank fraud and aggravated identity theft charges and a $795K fine. ABC News has reported he “could face more prison time if it is determined his involvement in the film was a violation of his probation, which barred him from either owning or using devices with access to the Web without prior approval from his probation officer.” So far Nakoula has not been arrested. He left his family’s Cerritos home with his head wrapped in a towel to hide his identity when sheriffs escorted him to a police station for FBI questioning.
At first, Innocence Of Muslims was ignored even when trailers were posted on YouTube in July. But then Egyptian television aired certain segments, which sparked protests which intensified. When news of his movie first broke, the filmmaker identified himself to media as Sam Bacile and made up lies about his identity. But the paperwork filed for the Screen Actors Guild was that of Abenob Nakoula Bassely. A public records search showed an Abanob B. Nakoula residing at the same address as Nakoula. Now the filmmaker is believed to be a Coptic Christian with many aliases.
Details about the film and its purported filmmakers have emerged over the past two weeks:
— Court records show that Nakoula was once a federal informant. The Smoking Gun obtained a transcript which shows attorneys for Nakoula pleaded for “cooperation points” when their client was sentenced in 2010 on an earlier conviction for check fraud. The lawyers argued cooperation with prosecutors in a separate case should be taken into consideration.
— Family members of Nakoula left their Cerritos home to join him in hiding. Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies escorted members of Nakoula’s family out of the house early Monday and into sheriff’s vehicles so they could rejoin Nakoula at an undisclosed location.
— News reports claim a second filmmaker, Joseph Nassralla Abdelmasih, president of Media for Christ, is an associate of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula.
— Film LA released the permit (read it here) for the film, which lists Media for Christ as the production company. Names and contact information for the producer, director and other crew members were redacted. The permit covers a one-day shoot at Blue Cloud Ranch in Santa Clarita for the film Desert Warriors, which has since become known as Innocence Of Muslims.
— Nakoula was connected to the persona of Sam Bacile, a federal law enforcement source told the AP. A man calling himself Sam Bacile initially claimed to be the writer and director of the film, but doubts surfaced regarding his identity. He has no credits on any movie industry database and SAG-AFTRA tells Deadline they have no information about the film; the DGA confirms they have no ‘Sam Bacile’ on record. It appears that Bacile is one of many aliases Nakoula used, the AP noted.
— The YouTube profile ‘Sam Bacile’ was used to post clips of the film on July 1 and comments as recently as Tuesday last week. It lists the age of the account holder at 74. Nakoula is believed to be 55.
— Another man, Steve Klein, told CNN he worked with Bacile on the movie vetting the script. Klein is an insurance agent and self-described militant Christian activist who resides in Hemet, CA.
— There are accounts of the film being screened in June under the name Innocence Of Bin Laden. According to Klein, Nakoula wanted to give it a title that would draw in and then trick “hardcore Muslims” into watching a movie that slammed Islam. But according to Klein, no tickets were sold and Nakoula was “crushed,” the AP said. Klein told The Times “felt great” about consulting on the film.
— CNN received a statement from the 80 or so people in front of and behind the cameras denouncing the film they say they worked on without knowing it was propaganda. The statement reads:
“The entire cast and crew are extremely upset and feel taken advantage of by the producer. We are 100% not behind this film and were grossly misled about its intent and purpose. We are shocked by the drastic rewrites of the script and lies that were told to all involved. We are deeply saddened by the tragedies that have occurred.”