News that the U.S. is investigating whether the murder of Libyan ambassador Chris Stevens was the result of a preplanned, coordinated terrorist attack and not a spontaneous uprising ignited by an anti-Muslim film have added a new dimension to the tragedy. Authorities have now discovered the identity of the man who made the movie.
The Obama administration is investigating whether the attacks were planned in protest to America's recognition of 9/11 or were simply a spontaneous attack at the hands of an angry mob. The White House says it is still too early to determine how of if the attack was planned.
"I know that this is being investigated, and we're working with the Libyan government to investigate the incident. I would not want to speculate on that at this time," White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Thursday. Several Libyan security guards also were killed.
U.S. intelligence officials are still trying to piece together the tragic events of the past few days that led to the unrest in Egypt and Libya and at least four murders. But behind the scenes is Gainesville, Fla., Dove World Outreach Center pastor Terry Jones and a man federal authorities have now identified as a Southern California Coptic Christian by the name of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, who adopted the persona of Sam Bacile, the man who produced the amateur film titled "Innocence of Muslims" that Muslim extremists say sparked Tuesday's violence that killed Stevens and three others.
Nakoula is currently on probation after being convicted of financial crimes and was the center figure behind the movie that was originally titled "Desert Warrior," an adventure film that supposedly took place over 2,000 years ago. The actors and crew who made the film claim they had no idea it was intended to mock Islam or Muhammad and issued a joint statement after the violence in Libya.
"The entire cast and crew are extremely upset and feel taken advantage of by the producer," said the statement, obtained by The Los Angeles Times. "We are 100 percent not behind this film and were grossly misled about its intent and purpose. We are shocked by the drastic rewrites of the script and lies that were told to all involved. We are deeply saddened by the tragedies that have occurred."
From what has been learned about Nakoula, he was convicted in 2009 of fraud after opening a string of bank accounts under different names and transferred bogus checks between them, cashing the checks before they bounced.
But this was not his first encounter with law enforcement. In the late 1990s, he was convicted of manufacturing methamphetamine and sentenced to one year in jail and three years' probation. He was later jailed for another year after violating the term of his probation in 2002.
Before being identified, the man calling himself Sam Bacile told The Associated Press that he was Jewish and Israeli, although Israeli officials had no knowledge or records of anyone by that name. When reporters found Nakoula, he told reporters that he managed logistics for the company that produced the film and denied that he was Bacile but said that he knew him.
Prior to Bacile's identity being revealed, most of the focus has been on Jones and exactly what his role has been in promoting the movie. Jones' burning of the Quran two years ago sparked outrage in the Arab world and has since made him an easy target and excuse for Muslim violence.
Jones told reporters on Tuesday that he had no role in creating the movie but planned to show it at his Gainesville, Fla., church and possibly promote it to a larger audience.
"When we do our activities, when we raise our awareness of the radical element of Islam, we are posing those people absolutely no danger," Jones told an NBC News affiliate. "We are, perhaps, insulting some people, but just because you are insulted, it gives you no right to break into someone's house, go into his yard, kill him and destroy his property. So we should by no means excuse their activities."
The Gainesville pastor first gained notoriety in 2010 when he said he would burn 200 Qurans on Sept. 11, but called off the burning when Sec. of State Hillary Clinton and then-Gen. David Petraeus expressed concern that it would incite violence overseas and in the U.S. However, he did burn a Quran in the spring of 2011 after holding a mock trial over the Muslim holy book and proclaimed 9/11 as "International Judge Muhammad Day." In a statement prior to the deaths of Stevens, Jones defended his actions and called the Muslim people "intolerant."
"The fact that angry protesters climbed the wall at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo today, ripped down the American flag and tore it apart further indicates the lack of respect that Islam has for any other religion, any other flag, any freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of religion," he said. "It further illustrates that they have no tolerance for anything outside of Muhammad."
As reported in The Christian Post on Thursday, Jones was asked to stop promoting the film after the attacks in Libya and was contacted by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey on Wednesday. Jones told the general he would consider his request not to upload the film to the church's website, but then told reporters he would ignore the Pentagon's request.
Nonetheless, columnists have demanded that evangelical leaders stop Jones and his church from any further actions that could incite violence in the Middle East but no one appears capable of influencing the free-spirited Florida pastor.
A leading evangelical who was contacted for this story but asked not to be named said that Jones' actions were "detestable" but that his rights to free speech and to state his opinions were protected by the First Amendment.
"I think what Mr. Jones is doing is a travesty and that he should stop immediately," the evangelical told The Christian Post. "This is no way for a true 'Christian' to act and because his actions are causing the loss of innocence lives, this should be reason enough for him to stop."
"However, Mr. Jones' right to free speech is protected and until he violates a specific law, unfortunately, I see no legal way to stop him."
An effort by The Christian Post to contact Jones was unsuccessful prior to publication.