Tuesday quick reads: Biton bail mob tied, videomaker due in court, US looks to renew Iran talks

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Anti-Islam filmmaker arrested for violating probation

The Egyptian American man thought to be behind an anti-Islam video clip that partly incited weeks of anti-American protests in the Muslim world was arrested Thursday in Los Angeles for violating the terms of his 2010 probation.

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, an Egyptian Copt based in Los Angeles, was detained after having been found to have violated the terms of his probation following his 2009 indictment for federal bank fraud, Thom Mrozak, a spokesman for the US attorney’s office in Los Angeles, told journalists Thursday.

“I confirm his arrest and [that] he was ordered ‘detained’ – held without bond – at a hearing that ended a little while ago,” Mrozak told Al-Monitor by email Thursday.

Nakoula, 55, “was ordered held without bond during an appearance in United States District Court here Thursday evening,” the New York Times reported. “The news media was barred from the courtroom, but Mr. Mrozek said journalists would be able to view the appearance by videoconference from another court center.”

Federal court records show that Nakoula was sentenced to 21 months prison in 2010 for federal bank fraud. Nakoula was released in June 2011, a month before filming began for the low-budget production that was edited into the trailer for the “Innocence of Muslims” that sparked outrage in the Arab world after it was posted in Arabic to YouTube earlier this month.

“The bank fraud scheme included a twist that is probably pertinent to the current investigation: he committed the crime using a variety of aliases,” the Times report said.

(Photo: Nakoula Basseley Nakoula was questioned about his probation terms in Los Angeles this month. Los Angeles Times.)

Video-maker Nakoula Basseley Nakoula questioned in probation probe

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, one of the people behind a crude video that has set off a storm of protests across the Middle East, has been taken by Los Angeles police for questioning over whether he violated the terms of his probation.

Shortly after midnight, “Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies escorted a man believed to be Nakoula Basseley Nakoula to an awaiting car,” the Los Angeles Times reported. “The man declined to answer questions on his way out and wore a hat and a towel over his face.”

A sheriff’s office spokesman Steve Whitmore “told the (LA )Times that Nakoula was taken in for a voluntary interview with probation officials and has not been arrested or detained”

Nakoula was sentenced to 21 months in prison in 2010 for federal bank fraud.

Reports Friday indicated that Nakoula was also a federal informant. He appeared to receive reduced sentences on several earlier drug and fraud related convictions.

A defense attorney arguing for a shorter sentence for Nakoula in the 2010 bank fraud case told the court that the defendant’s cooperation should be taken into consideration. “He’s undergone extensive debriefings. … He has implicated [Eiad] Salamey.”

“I decided to cooperate with the government to retrieve some of these mistakes or damage,” Nakoula told the judge, according to the court transcript obtained by The Smoking Gun. “I want to cooperate with the government that they can catch with this other criminals who is their involvement.” Continue reading

Clinton: Middle East “did not trade tyranny of dictator for tyranny of mob”


A somber Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking at the transfer of remains ceremony for four US diplomatic personnel killed in Libya Friday, called on the people and leaders of the Middle East to reject mob violence.

“The people of Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia did not trade the tyranny of a dictator for the tyranny of a mob,” Clinton said at the solemn ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland Friday, flanked by President Obama.

“Reasonable people and responsible leaders in these countries need to do everything they can to restore security and hold accountable those behind these violent acts,” she continued.

Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns accompanied the remains of US Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, foreign service officer Sean Smith, and US diplomatic security officers Tyrone “Rone” Woods and Glen Doherty on the flight from the region to Andrews Air Force Base.

“We will bring to justice those who took them from us,” President Obama vowed at the ceremony.

Clinton, clearly grieving, recounted the great affection and genuine respect she, State Department colleagues and the Libyan people had for Stevens. “People loved to work with Chris, and as he rose through the ranks they loved to work for Chris,” Clinton said. “He was known not only for his courage but for his smile.”

She cited as but one example of the affection with which Stevens was held by Libyans the hand-written sign carried by one veiled woman in Benghazi: “Thugs and killers don’t represent Benghazi nor Islam.”

“We will wipe away our tears, stiffen our spines, and move forward undaunted,” Clinton vowed.

Protests, sometimes violent, against American and Western targets spread to several countries Friday, including Tunisia, the West Bank, Sinai and Sudan. This Google map captures the extent of the protests. The demonstrations have been spurred in part by anger over a crude anti-Islamic video trailer posted to YouTube by an Egyptian American convicted felon, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula.

A cameraman for Al-Monitor filming a mob of thousands protesting at the US Embassy in Tunisia Friday was surrounded and assaulted by a group of bearded Salafi men.

Black smoke rose from the US Embassy north of the capital Tunis after an explosion. The angry mob also pillaged the American school next door, he recounted in a dispatch.

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Was video director Nakoula an informant?

Much about the case of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the alleged director of the anti-Islam video, doesn’t add up.

For instance, federal prison records show that Nakoula was released from prison for bank fraud in late June 2011. Yet he was shooting the film that was made into the video that has provoked violent protests across the Middle East just one month later, in July 2011, according to a Craigslist casting call and reported interviews with actors who worked on the low-budget film.

Law enforcement officials, speaking anonymously, also seemed suspiciously quick to ID Nakoula as the filmmaker behind the video, when so many aspects of the video’s provenance are murky.

Criminal records also show that Nakoula had served two other prison sentences, one following his arrest in 1997 for intent to make methamphetamine, and a later one in 2002 for violating the terms of his probation. But much about how those cases remains murky.

Journalists Christine Pelisek and Michael Daly, writing at The Daily Beast, raise the theory, was Nakoula an informant?

Nakoula’s lawyer is not returning phone calls or responding to emails, but it seems reasonable to wonder if Nakoula’s case was not part of this investigation. One question that bears asking is whether Nakoula helped persuade the feds that the drug money was going to Muslim extremists. He is a Coptic Christian. […]

In the court file for the second case, Indictment CR09-00617, the records regarding the plea deal are sealed. That can be construed as another indication that Nakoula had previously been an informant. His lawyer is not responding to calls or emails regarding this, either.

In a case where so little of the official story adds up, this theory seems plausible.

Queries to Thom Mrozak, spokesman for the US Attorney’s office in Los Angeles about the Nakoula case by Al-Monitor were not answered.

President Obama condemns the killing of US diplomats in Libya


President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed heartbreak and outrage over the killing of US Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other US diplomatic personnel in a mob attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya Tuesday.

Stevens was the first US ambassador killed in the line of duty since 1979.

The violent protests in Benghazi and Cairo were reportedly spurred by the 15-minute trailer of an anti-Islam film posted to YouTube that was produced by someone claiming to be an Israeli real estate developer based in California, who called Islam “a cancer.” But it’s not clear the filmmaker is who he says.

“I strongly condemn the outrageous attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi, which took the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens,” President Obama said in a statement early Wednesday.

“Make no mistake: Justice will be done,” Obama said at a Rose Garden ceremony flanked by Clinton Wednesday.

After the ceremony, Obama was to join Clinton for a closed-press visit to the State Department to console State Department colleagues of those killed. In addition to Stevens, they included Foreign Service officer Sean Smith, a husband and father of two who had previously served in Iraq, South Africa, Canada and the Hague.

Stevens was a deeply admired US diplomat who had spearheaded US efforts to support Libya’s democratic transition after the ouster of dictator Moammar Gadhafi last year. A former Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco, the Arabic-speaking Stevens, a native of California, had worked as a trade lawyer before joining the Foreign Service in 1991. Among his foreign service postings were Israel, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and the Iran desk, before he was confirmed as US ambassador to post-Gadhafi Libya earlier this year. (See the welcome video Stevens made to introduce himself to Libyans).

“Like Chris, Sean was one of our best,” Clinton said in a statement.

Two other US personnel killed in Libya were not yet being identified publicly pending notification of their next of kin, Clinton said.

Stevens died of smoke inhalation from a fire set by RPG attacks on the consulate. He had gone to Benghazi to assist the evacuation of US consular staff under attack, reports said.

Meantime, the man who claimed to have written, produced and directed the $5 million film that reportedly sparked the protests said he blamed lax security at the US government facilities and the protesters for the deaths of the US diplomats.

“I feel the security system (at the embassies) is no good,” the man who identified himself as “Sam Bacile” told the Associated Press in an interview from an undisclosed location Wednesday. “America should do something to change it.”

“Bacile, a California real estate developer who identifies himself as an Israeli Jew, said he believes the movie will help his native land by exposing Islam’s flaws to the world,” the AP report said.

But it’s not clear that Bacile is who he claims. Israeli officials said they would not confirm or deny that he is an Israeli citizen, under that or other names.

And there were some hints that Bacile may be a pseudonym, possibly for someone affiliated with the Egyptian Coptic diaspora. Continue reading