Who is ‘Sam Bacile’?
New intriguing leads on the man who made the world’s most deadly movie trailer.
U.S. diplomatic missions in Libya, Egypt and Yemen have come under violent assault in recent days, all ostensibly on account of an online trailer for a film nobody has seen called “Innocence of Muslims.” The 14-minute clip, almost comically badly acted, depicts the Muslim Prophet Muhammad in a, well, unflattering light. The actors in the clip have insisted they were duped into thinking the film was set 2,000 years ago in (pre-Islamic) Egypt, and that the Muhammad character was named “George.” The anti-Islamic thrust of the clip appears to have been added later by way of some crude overdubbing.
Since then questions have swirled about the identity of the film-maker. On Tuesday, the Journal spoke to a man who claimed to be the director and called himself Sam Bacile. He described himself as a 52-year-old Israeli-American real-estate developer, called Islam a “cancer,” and said the film had been funded by Jewish donors to the tune of $5 million.
But as the Journal reports, there are no records of a “Sam Bacile” either in the U.S. or Israel. The Journal also reports that “Sam Bacile’s” phone number was traced to an address in Cerritos, Calif., which appears to be the home of somebody named Nakoula Bassely Nakoula. Along with a “Sam Basselley,” Mr. Nakoula is listed as one of the film’s producers. In a conversation with the Associated Press, he denied being Sam Bacile but claimed to be a Coptic Christian and the manager of the company that had produced the film. Records indicate that a man named Nakoula Nakoula recently served a prison sentence for bank fraud. Among his known aliases are Mark Basseley Youssef and Youssef M. Basseley.
With help from a tipster, I’ve done some sleuthing myself and come up with a few intriguing leads. Until the page suddenly vanished yesterday, someone named Sam Bassel had a Facebook page in which he identified himself as a male “Movei [sic] maker” in Hollywood, California. Also promoted as a “Favorite” on the page is a movie called “Innocence of bin Laden,” which seems to have been the original title for “Innocence of Muslims.” Most of the written exchanges on the page are in Arabic, and most of Sam Bassel’s Facebook friends appear to be of Arab origin as well. Also listed as a Favorite on the page is a link to a Facebook group called “I am Egyptian.”
The “Sam Bassel” Facebook page abruptly vanished yesterday. But I caught a screen grab of the page before it disappeared.
Note the name under the “Work and Education” tag: “matthew mtta dba,” in Norwalk Calif. A Google search finds that a legal notice for a Fictitious Business Name Statement was posted in the Nov. 4-10, 2010 issue of the San Gabriel Valley Examiner, on page B11. It reads: “The following person(s) doing business as: MATTHEW MTTA” and gives the registrant’s name as “Abanob Basseley,” along with an address in Norwalk.
So who is Abanob Basseley? Yesterday I called a number listed to that name with an address in Cerritos, CA—the same town in which Nakoula Nakoula apparently lives. The number was no longer in service, so the hunt goes on. But a few tentative conclusions:
Sam Bacile/Bassel is not an Israeli-American, and his attempt to pass himself off as one is a potentially deadly slander. His film—if there really is any footage beyond the 14-minute clip—did not cost anything like $5 million to make. There is no cabal of Jewish donors who put up the money. Sam Bassel, or whoever used that name as a Facebook alias, speaks and writes fluent Arabic and likely has an Egyptian background. The name Abanob Basseley is, as one Egyptian friend tells me, as typically Coptic as, say, Mohammad is Muslim or Shlomo is Jewish. (St. Abonoub is a Coptic saint named after an Egyptian child martyred by the Romans.) The fact that the film was publicly promoted by Morris Sadek, the head of the National American Coptic Assembly, also suggests a Coptic connection to the film.
No doubt we’ll learn more about “Sam Bacile” in the days to come. What effect, if any, an accurate account of the video clip’s true origins will have on the protesters rampaging in Arab capitals remains to be seen.