A top U.S. Coptic official said in a statement that the church “strongly rejects dragging” the community into controversy because of “an inflammatory movie.”
But some evidence has emerged that at least two Coptic activists, one on each coast of the United States, were involved in promoting and producing the film, which depicts Islam’s most revered figure, the prophet Muhammad, as a vulgar, violent womanizer swaggering in the desert with a gang of thugs.
A 14-minute compilation of excerpts has been posted since Monday on the Web site of Morris Sadek, an Egyptian-American Copt who lives in Northern Virginia. Local Coptic activists said Sadek, who didn’t respond to repeated requests for an interview, sent e-mails promoting the video to hundreds of people, including local followers and journalists in Egypt.
The activists said that Sadek had been interviewed by telephone on television and radio in Egypt this week in connection with the video and that he routinely e-mails newspaper editors and opinion makers in Egypt.
Federal officials said Thursday that they thought a man named Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, of Cerritos, Calif., played a role in making the video, though they declined to confirm an Associated Press report that Nakoula, whom the AP described as a Copt, was the “key figure” behind it. Officials said the FBI expects to learn more about the video as part of a broader probe into the attacks in Libya.
For now, one official said, the video’s origins remain a “mystery.’’ There is no indication that Nakoula and Sadek know each other.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Thursday that the video excerpts had been available well before Egyptians began organizing demonstrations. The video “had actually been circulating at a relatively low level for some months out there in cyberspace and . . . only caught fire in the region on the day or just before the day that we began to see these various protests,” she said.
Nakoula told the AP that he managed logistics for a company that produced the film and did not direct it but said he knew the filmmaker, Sam Bacile. A man by that name had earlier told the AP via phone that he was the writer and director. The AP said on Thursday that Bacile is a false identity and that the cellphone number used to reach him traces to the home of Nakoula.
A Southern California insurance salesman and anti-Muslim activist named Steve Klein told Bloomberg News that he advised the filmmaker on finding actors. The video was originally titled “The Innocence of Bin Laden,” Klein said, which the filmmaker predicted would attract an audience of radical Islamists who would then become disillusioned about their faith after watching.