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Calif. man confirms role in making of anti-Muslim film

LOS ANGELES — The search for those behind the provocative, anti-Muslim film that triggered a mob in Egypt led Wednesday to a California Coptic Christian convicted of financial crimes who acknowledged his role in managing and providing logistics for the production.

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, said in an interview outside Los Angeles that he was manager for the company that produced ‘‘Innocence of Muslims,’’ which mocked Muslims and the Prophet Mohammed and was implicated in inflaming mobs that attacked the US Embassy in Cairo. The film initially was also blamed for inciting the attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including Ambassador John Christopher Stevens. US officials, however, now say the outcry over the film might have been used as a pretense for a long planned terrorist attack.

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Nakoula provided the first details about a shadowy production group behind the film. He denied that he directed the film and said he knew the self-described filmmaker, Sam Bacile. But the cellphone number that AP contacted Tuesday to reach the filmmaker, who identified himself as Sam Bacile, traced to the same address near Los Angeles where AP found Nakoula. Federal court papers said Nakoula’s aliases included Nicola Bacily, Erwin Salameh, and others.

Nakoula told the AP that he was a Coptic Christian and said the film’s director supported the concerns of Christian Copts about their treatment by Muslims.

Nakoula, who talked guardedly about his role, pleaded no contest in 2010 to federal bank fraud charges in California and was ordered to pay more than $790,000 in restitution. He was also sentenced to 21 months in federal prison and ordered not to use computers or the Internet for five years without his probation officer’s approval.

The Youtube account ‘‘Sam Bacile,’’ used to publish excerpts of the provocative movie in July, was posting comments online as recently as Tuesday.

The person who identified himself as Bacile and described himself as the film’s writer and director told the AP Tuesday that he has gone into hiding. But doubts rose about the man’s identity amid a flurry of false claims about his background and role in the purported film.

Bacile told the AP he was an Israeli-born 56-year-old Jewish writer and director. But a Christian activist involved in the film project, Steve Klein, said Wednesday that Bacile was a pseudonym, he was not Jewish or Israeli, and that a group of Americans of Mideast origin collaborated on the film. Officials in Israel also said there was no record of Bacile as an Israeli citizen.

In his brief interview with the AP, Bacile defiantly called Islam a cancer and said he intended the film to be a provocative political statement condemning the religion.

But several key facts Bacile provided proved false or questionable.

Bacile told AP he was 56 but identified himself on his Youtube profile as 74. Bacile said he is a real estate developer, but Bacile does not appear in searches of California state licenses, including the Department of Real Estate.

Hollywood and California film industry groups and permit agencies said they had no records of the project. A man who answered a phone listed for the Vine Theater, a faded Hollywood movie house, confirmed that the film had run for a least a day, and possibly longer, several months ago, arranged by a customer known as Sam.

Nakoula denied he had posed as Bacile. During a conversation outside his home, he offered his driver’s license to show his identity but kept his thumb over his middle name, Basseley. Records checks by the AP subsequently found the name ‘‘Basseley’’ and other connections to the Bacile persona.

The AP located Bacile through Morris Sadek, a conservative Coptic Christian in the United States who had promoted the anti-Muslim film in recent days on his website. Members of Egypt’s Christian Coptic community have long decried what they describe as a history of discrimination and occasional violence from the country’s Arab majority.

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