LOS ANGELES – The key figure behind "Innocence of Muslims," a film denigrating Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, says he is Coptic Christian. The film has sparked protests in the Middle East and is implicated in an attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and other Americans. Here's a look at the religion and reaction to the film:
WHO ARE COPTIC CHRISTIANS?
Coptic Christians belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church, originally based in the Egyptian Mediterranean city of Alexandria. The church traces its founding back to St. Mark who is said to have brought Christianity to Egypt in the 1st Century. The Coptic language used in their liturgy can be traced back to Pharaonic times. The church was instrumental in the founding of monasticism in Christianity.
Once a majority in Egypt, Coptic Christians now make up about 10 percent of the country's 85 million people. They are the largest Christian community in the Middle East.
Many Egyptian Christians fled to the U.S. to escape what they say is religious discrimination in the majority Muslim nation.
Since the ouster of Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak, a series of anti-Christian attacks has heightened tensions, with Christians blame the ruling military council that took power.
The U.S. expatriate community numbers about 300,000 with the largest concentrations in New York and northern New Jersey, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Houston and Cleveland.
WHAT'S THEIR REACTION TO THE FILM?
His Grace Bishop Serapion of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Los Angeles, Southern California and Hawaii, said Thursday he doesn't support the views portrayed in the movie and he also condemned the murders of the U.S. ambassador and three others.
Serapion learned Thursday that a member of his congregation at the Bellflower parish is the same man federal authorities say was behind the anti-Muslim film that ignited violence against U.S. embassies in the Mideast.
Serapion told The Associated Press Nakoula Basseley Nakoula phoned him Thursday morning and immediately claimed innocence, saying there had been a mix-up with his name and he had no involvement with the film.
However, a day earlier, Nakoula told the AP that he managed logistics for the company that produced the film.
Serapion said Nakoula hadn't been noticed by the priest at services in a very long time.
Serapion said in a statement that the diocese "strongly rejects dragging the respectable Copts of the Diaspora in the latest production of an inflammatory movie about the prophet of Islam. The producers of this movie should be responsible for their actions. The name of our blessed parishioners should not be associated with the efforts of individuals who have ulterior motives."
Serapion added: "Holistically blaming the Copts for the production of this movie is equivalent to holistically blaming Muslims for the actions of a few fanatics. Even though Christians often face persecution, injustice and calls for open attacks over the airwaves, we reject violence in all its forms."