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Crime & Courts

EXCLUSIVE: Jailed filmmaker vows to finish film wrongly blamed for Benghazi attack


Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, seen here in September being escorted out of his home in Cerritos, Calif., told he doesn't consider himself as a political prisoner and refused to call himself a scapegoat for the deadly siege that killed four Americans last year in Benghazi, Libya. (Bret Hartman/Reuters)

EXCLUSIVE: The controversial filmmaker whose crude Internet trailer was wrongly blamed by the White House for sparking last year's deadly Benghazi attack vowed to finish his movie, which he said is aimed at fighting terrorism, not denigrating Islam.

Breaking his silence from inside a facility under the authority of the federal Bureau of Prisons in southern California, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula told in a series of phone interviews that his film "Innocence of Muslims" has been widely misunderstood, and not just in being singled out as causing the Sept. 11, 2012, attack that left U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead.

"It is not [a] religion movie,” he said. “I have a lot of Muslim friends and not all the Muslims believe in the terrorism culture. Some of them believe in this culture. That’s why we need to fight [against] the culture, not the Muslims. My enemy is the terrorism culture; this is my enemy.

“My enemy is the terrorism culture; this is my enemy.”

- Nakoula Basseley Nakoula

“I am the blood voice for everybody who gets killed, or hurt, in this culture,” he continued. “I dedicate my life to fight with this culture … I’m never afraid.”

Nakoula, who was thrust into the international spotlight — and then federal prison — after the White House wrongly blamed the 14-minute, amateurish trailer for the attack, says he has more than two hours of footage to complete the film, for which he hopes to find a distributor upon his release on Sept. 26. 

"Of course I'm proud of it. If I could go back, I would do it again,” said Nakoula, 55, a Coptic Christian born in Egypt who came to the United States in 1984. “Everybody gets hurt in this culture. We need the world free of this culture. We have to fight it.”

The crudely produced clip that has gained millions of Internet views since being pinpointed as the cause of the attack begins with Egyptian forces merely watching as Muslims burn the homes of Egyptian Christians. It goes on to depict the Prophet Muhammad — an act considered blasphemous on its face — as a womanizer, homosexual and child molester. Muhammad is portrayed by an actor sporting a cartoonish beard and the film suffers from disjointed dialogue and decidedly low-tech editing and production.

The trailer was blamed by then-Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice in a Sunday morning news show blitz five days after the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that left Stevens, embassy staffer Sean Smith and two security contractors and former Navy SEALs, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, all dead. The talking points read by Rice were later discredited, with some critics charging the administration used Nakoula and his film as pawns in an effort to play down the threat of terrorism during the election run-up.

In November, Nakoula was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Christina Snyder to one year behind bars for lying to his probation officer about his film and using fake names in the production of the project, which made him a target for militant Muslims around the world. The deceptions violated the terms of his probation for a bank and credit-card fraud conviction in 2010. Nakoula declined to comment on the sentence.

Yet, Nakoula, who must serve four years of supervised release following his prison term, refused to criticize the Obama administration.

“Who am I to criticize the commander in chief?" Nakoula said. "Who am I?  He knows more than me.”

When asked if he believed his film was used as a scapegoat, or if he was unfairly prosecuted — charged with probation violations related to his film — Nakoula became tight-lipped.

“No comment,” said Nakoula, who declined to be interviewed on camera and spoke to in a series of phone calls from a location he did not want disclosed.

In the next breath, Nakoula profusely thanked the U.S. government “from the top to the bottom” for protecting him since his arrest.

“I would like to thank the United States government from the top to the bottom for protecting me,” he said. “They treat me very, very good since this happened until now.”

When asked about Rice's promotion last week to National Security Adviser after she became the face of the White House effort to substitute him for Al Qaeda as the cause of the Benghazi attack, Nakoula was again unwilling to be critical of the Obama administration.

“Who am I to criticize the United States’ commander in chief? This is his decision,” he said. “It’s not my responsibility. It’s not my job.”

Nakoula expressed his sympathy for relatives of those who died in the Benghazi attack, including Stevens and Woods, whose father, Charles Woods, claims then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told him the “person who made that film” would be brought to justice following the incident.

"I would like to say sorry to everybody,” Nakoula said.

Once freed, Nakoula said he hopes to reconcile with his three estranged children, who he says shunned him in the wake of the Obama administration's accusations.

“I lost everything,” he said. “Everybody left me.”

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