Alleged anti-Islam filmmaker did not spark violence: lawyer
A lawyer for the alleged filmmaker behind "Innocence of Muslims" denied on Wednesday he was to blame for a wave of violence across the Middle East, as his client appeared in court for a second time.
Attorney Steven Seiden said US congressional hearings in Washington would shed more light on the cause of the violence, which killed a number of people including the US ambassador to Libya.
"My client was not the cause of the violence in the Middle East. Clearly it was pre-planned, that was just an excuse and a trigger point," he told reporters after the brief court hearing in Los Angeles.
"As you know, there (are) congressional hearings going on now as to the source of the real violence in the Middle East," he said.
When the violence erupted, "the press, the president, secretary of state were blaming my client for the violence in the Mideast, and then a week later we learned that it was all pre-planned attacks to coincide with 9/11."
"We'll see what they come up with, and we'll see how that impacts his case," he added in reference to Congress.
The film depicting the Prophet Mohammed as a thuggish deviant offended many Muslims, and sparked a wave of anti-US protests in a number of countries that cost several lives and saw mobs set US missions, schools and businesses ablaze.
On September 11, the anniversary of the Al-Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington, US ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in an attack on the US consulate in Benghazi.
Initially, US officials said that attack followed spontaneous protests against the anti-Islam film, which were occurring in other countries in the region.
But administration officials in Washington this week gave a detailed account of the attack, in which dozens of armed men invaded the consulate setting it on fire and hunting down staff.
Youssef, 55, was arrested last month for eight breaches of his probation for a 2010 bank fraud conviction, and attended a preliminary probation-revocation hearing Wednesday before US District Judge Christina Snyder.
In February 2009, a federal indictment accused Nakoula and others of fraudulently obtaining the identities and Social Security numbers of customers at several Wells Fargo branches in California and withdrawing $860 from them.
At Wednesday's hearing, held amid tight security in an almost empty court, media were allowed to watch events by video conference from a separate building, the judge read the eight probation violation charges against him.
Youssef, a balding Middle Eastern-looking man in a white top and glasses perched on his head, said the single word "Deny" to each of the accusations. He was mostly shielded from camera view by his lawyer, Seiden.
He was ordered kept in custody, and a new hearing was set for November 9.
"We've denied all the accusations today, a hearing date has been set, and we'll let the matter work itself out in court," said the lawyer afterwards.
The man linked to an anti-Islam film that stoked violent protests in the Muslim world denied on Wednesday that he had violated his probation on a bank fraud conviction, and he was sent back to jail until his case can be heard on its merits.
The man, who has been known publicly as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, denied under oath in US District Court in Los Angeles that he committed eight probation violations, including lying to officials over the scope his role in the film and using aliases.
If he is found to have violated the terms of his supervised release from prison, the Egyptian-born Coptic Christian man whose legal name is Mark Basseley Youssef could be sent back to prison for two years.
A crudely made 13-minute video attributed to Youssef, 55, was made in California and circulated online under several titles including “Innocence of Muslims.” The film portrays the Prophet Mohammad as a fool and sexual deviant.
It touched off a torrent of anti-American unrest in Arab and Muslim countries. That violence coincided with a separate attack on US diplomatic facilities in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including the US ambassador to Libya.
As outrage against the film mounted, US authorities said they were not investigating the film itself. Youssef was taken into custody last month over the probation issues and has been held without bond at a Los Angeles federal detention center.
Youssef, wearing white jail garb, was escorted into court on Wednesday by five US marshals, his hands shackled in front of him and a pair of reading glasses perched on his head.
Security was tight for the hearing, which was packed with members of the media. Marshals confiscated the cell phones of reporters before they entered the courtroom.
Prosecutors said Youssef violated the terms of his release by using aliases, fraudulently obtaining a California driver’s license under another name and lying to probation officers by falsely claiming his only involvement with the anti-Islam film was as a script writer.
As US District Judge Cristina Snyder read the eight accusations against him, Youssef replied to each one with the word: “Deny.” An evidentiary hearing was set for November 9.
Legal experts say Youssef’s attorneys could argue that the terms of his release in the 2010 bank fraud conviction did not apply directly to his recent activities, in which people associated with the film have said he misrepresented himself.
“It will be interesting to see what the judge does and what the reaction is around the world,” Loyola Law School professor Stan Goldman said. “It’s not exactly like an armed robber on probation, getting caught with an automatic weapon in his possession. It’s a little more technical.”
Youssef’s lawyer Steve Seiden, who had previously expressed concerns about his client’s safety in jail, also asked the court to move Youssef out of protective custody and into the jail’s general population. Snyder said she wanted to hear from Bureau of Prisons officials before taking a decision.
The defendant, who had worked in the gas station industry and most recently lived in a suburb of Los Angeles, declared at the outset of his last hearing that he had changed his name to Mark Basseley Youssef in 2002.
The probation issues were the latest of Youssef’s legal woes. An actress who says she was duped into appearing in the anti-Islam film has sued him over the matter, identifying him as the film’s producer. Cindy Lee Garcia also named YouTube and its parent company Google Inc as defendants in the case.
Google has refused to remove the film from YouTube, despite pressure from the White House and others to take it down, though the company has blocked the trailer in Egypt, Libya and other Muslim countries.