Monday, December 11, 2017
News Roundup

Anti-Muslim pastor gets attention, not credit for deadly Libya attack

Controversial Gainesville preacher Terry Jones, largely ignored by the Florida media since his attempts to burn Korans in 2010, is again in the spotlight for his alleged support of a film that may have sparked protests in Egypt and Libya on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The latter turned violent as a mob attacked the consulate in Benghazi and killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other American diplomats.

But Jones' connection to the mysterious anti-Muslim film is weak, and the motivation for the violence seems far more complicated.

The Obama administration said Wednesday that it suspects the attack in Libya may have been a planned and organized assault rather than a spontaneous uprising.

Others, including the London-based think tank Quilliam, said the assault "was a well planned terrorist attack that would have occurred regardless of the demonstration, to serve another purpose."

Citing sources in Benghazi, the think tank said: "(W)e have reason to believe that the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi came to avenge the death of Abu Yaya al-Libi, al-Qaida's second in command killed a few months ago."

A day before the attack, the leader of al-Qaida, Ayman al-Zawahiri, urged Libyans to avenge the killing, Quilliam noted, and roughly 20 militants were present, prepared for military assault with rocket-propelled grenade launchers that do not typically appear at peaceful protests.

Nonetheless, much of the blame for the protests was aimed at the poorly-made film Innocence of Muslims, directed and produced by Sam Bacile, who told the Associated Press he was an Israeli-American real estate developer who raised $5 million from Jewish donors to make the movie.

But questions quickly surfaced about Bacile's identity. The Atlantic reported Wednesday that one of the film's consultants, Steve Klein, said Bacile is not Israeli, and most likely not Jewish, and that the name is a pseudonym.

"I don't know that much about him," Klein told the Atlantic. "I can tell you this for sure, the state of Israel is not involved, Terry Jones is not involved. . . . I would suspect this is a disinformation campaign."

That seemed to square with the opinion of Emad Mekay, a lecturer at Stanford University and an investigative journalism fellow at University of California, Berkeley, who just returned from a three-month trip to Egypt.

"The protests in Egypt were sparked by allegations made by U.S.-based extremist Christian Coptic activists that they produced an inflammatory film that they were planning to release on 9/11," he said in a released statement. "It is not clear why they took credit for the movie. The U.S.-based extremist Copts were repeatedly on Egyptian TV and newspapers owned by former Mubarak regime figures, touting their presence in the U.S. as one reason why they succeeded in producing the movie. They were being quoted extensively on their alleged movie launch which inflamed feelings."

On Wednesday, the Associated Press interviewed a California Coptic Christian convicted of financial crimes who acknowledged his role in managing and providing logistics for the production.

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, told the Associated Press in an interview outside Los Angeles that he was manager for the company that produced Innocence of Muslims. He provided the first details about a shadowy production group behind the film.

Nakoula denied 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 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 it and other connections to the Bacile persona.

Mekay blamed wealthy Egyptian businessmen, upset at the fall of Mubarak, who are trying to push the region into chaos.

None of that stopped Jones from trying to capitalize on the renewed exposure, even if his connection to the film was tangential.

The slow-tongued leader was unapologetic as he greeted media at his Dove World Outreach Center, a large prefab warehouse which reportedly claims about 50 members.

He said he promoted the film during an "International Judge Muhammad Day" and planned to show a clip of the film at his church on Sept. 11. But he couldn't get the video to work. He also acknowledged he couldn't livestream the event on the Internet, refuting some reports.

"As we tried to show it, all of the sudden our Internet wouldn't work," he told Orlando's NBC affiliate. He wouldn't say how many people were in attendance.

Jones said he spoke with the movie's director on the phone Wednesday and prayed for him. He said he has not met the filmmaker in person, but the man contacted him a few weeks ago about promoting the movie.

"I have not met him. Sam Bacile, that is not his real name," Jones said. "I just talked to him on the phone. He is definitely in hiding and does not reveal his identity. He was quite honestly fairly shook up concerning the events and what is happening. A lot of people are not supporting him. He was generally a little shook up concerning this situation."

Wednesday, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appealed to Jones in a phone call not to promote the video. Jones said he told Dempsey that he would "definitely consider it," but later told reporters he would ignore the request.

Much of Gainesville has shunned Jones, who inspired deadly riots in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011 by threatening to burn copies of the Koran and then actually burning one.

Information from the New York Times, Associated Press, Atlantic and Miami Herald were used in this report.

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