Nasser Nasser, Associated Press
LOS ANGELES — The man behind video exerpts from an anti-Muslim movie that provoked mobs in Egypt and Libya said Wednesday that he has gone into hiding. But doubts rose about the man's exact identity amid a flurry of false claims about his background and role in the purported film.
The filmmaker, who identified himself in a telephone interview with The Associated Press as Sam Bacile, said he is an Israeli-born, Jewish writer and director of "Innocence of Muslims." Bacile was the name used to publish excerpts of the movie online as early as July 2.
But some key facts about Bacile's background and role in the film crumbled Wednesday as a Christian activist involved in the film project said that Bacile was a pseudonym, that 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.
Doubts mounted as well about the provenance of the film, "Innocence of Muslims." Several Hollywood and California film industry groups and permit agencies said they had no records of the project. Only an employee at a faded Hollywood movie theater confirmed that an entire version of the film had staged a brief run several months ago.
All that currently exists of the film are about 13 minutes of excerpts on Youtube, in English and Arabic language versions. While the excerpts were still viewable online in the U.S. on Wednesday, they vanished from the Web in Egypt. Cairo residents who tried to view the Youtube site instead got a warning that "this content is not available in your country due to a legal complaint."
Protesters apparently angered over the film burned down the U.S. Consulate Tuesday in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi. Libyan officials said Wednesday that Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other embassy employees were killed during the mob violence, but U.S. officials now say they are investigating whether the assault was a planned terrorist strike linked to Tuesday's 11-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
In his brief interview with the AP, the man who identified himself as Bacile defiantly called Islam "a cancer," and said that he intended the film to be a provocative political statement condemning the religion.
But several facts Bacile provided about himself soon proved false or questionable.
Bacile told AP he was 56, but identified himself on his Youtube profile as 74.
A Riverside, Calif., Christian activist who said he was a consultant and worked with Bacile on the film told The Atlantic Monthly on Wednesday that Bacile's name was a pseudonym, and that he was not Jewish or Israeli. The activist, Steve Klein, said that behind the film were Americans who had lived in several Mideast countries.
"Nobody is anything but by an active American citizen," Klein told the Atlantic. "They're from Syria, Turkey, Pakistan, there are some that are from Egypt. Some are Copts but the vast majority are evangelical."
In an interview Tuesday with the AP, Klein said the filmmaker is concerned for family members who live in Egypt. Bacile declined to confirm that suggestion. Klein did not return phone messages to the AP on Wednesday.
Klein told the AP that he promised to help Bacile make the movie but warned him that "you're going to be the next Theo van Gogh." Van Gogh was a Dutch filmmaker killed by a Muslim extremist in 2004 after making a film that was perceived as insulting to Islam.
"We went into this knowing this was probably going to happen," Klein said.
Bacile told the AP he is a real estate developer and an Israeli Jew. But Israeli officials said they had not heard of him and there was no record of him being a citizen. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not permitted to share personal information with the media.
The name Bacile also does not appear in searches of California state licenses, including the Department of Real Estate.
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