A 55-year-old Egypt-born Coptic Christian man living in the Los Angeles area was a key figure behind the anti-Islam film "Innocence of Muslims," blamed for sparking riots and protests in the Middle East, law enforcement officials told NBC News Thursday.
Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, who is on probation after being convicted of financial crimes, also was twice sentenced to jail after being found guilty of intent to manufacture methamphetamine in the late 1990s, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office said.
Court records show that Nakoula also was convicted on federal fraud charges in Los Angeles in 2010. Among the conditions of his probation, Nakoula was barred from using "any online service at any location" without the prior approval of his probation officer, according to a copy of court records in the case.
Federal law enforcement officials are investigating whether Nakoula violated his probation on federal fraud charges in his efforts to promote the movie, an official has confirmed to NBC News.
A federal law enforcement official told NBC that they believe Nakoula was behind the film, which he produced under a pseudonym.
It was not immediately clear whether Nakoula was the target of a criminal investigation or part of the broader investigation into the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in Libya during a terrorist attack. Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed Thursday that Justice Department officials were investigating the deaths, which occurred during an attack on the American mission in Benghazi.
The crude and provocative anti-Islam video, blamed in part for sparking protests against U.S. diplomatic missions, was promoted by another Egyptian-born Coptic Christian named Morris Sadek on his website.
Copts make up a minority in Egypt where they have been victims of discrimination and sometimes attacks by Islamic extremists.
A trailer for the amateurish film, posted on YouTube in July and later reposted after being translated into Arabic, portrays Muhammad, believed by Muslims to be God’s prophet, variously as a womanizer, a homosexual and a child abuser.
The translated clip, shown repeatedly on Egyptian television stations in recent weeks, sparked protests across the Middle East and North Africa and was blamed for inciting an attack in Libya on Tuesday that killed the U.S. Ambassador, Chris Stevens, and three other Americans.
U.S. officials are also investigating the possibility that the deadly Libya attack was planned in advance to coincide with the anniversary of the 9-11 attacks on the United States by Islamist terrorists.
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