A low-quality film mocking the Muslim Prophet Muhammad sparked some Libyan Islamist extremists to attack the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, killing U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other diplomats. Earlier on Tuesday, a group of ultraconservative Egyptians scaled the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and tore down the American flag, angry over the same movie.
So what is this film, and who made it?
The English-language film, portions of which have been online since July, attracted attention in Egypt only over the past few days when someone posted a segment of the movie that had been dubbed into Arabic, according to the New York Times. Some Egyptian TV hosts began airing clips of the film over and over, portraying it as a Coptic Christian and American plot to denigrate the prophet. (Morris Sadek, a Coptic Christian from Egypt and critic of Islam who now lives in the United States, told AP he recently began promoting the two-hour film, which might also explain its rise out of obscurity.) The amateur-seeming "Innocence of Muslims" film shows the Prophet Muhammad as a homosexual who endorses extramarital sex and pedophilia, along with other slurs against Islam. (Many Muslims consider physical or visual representations of Muhammad to be blasphemous.)
Though at first it was unclear who made the movie, the Wall Street Journal tracked down and interviewed Israeli-American real estate developer Sam Bacile, who said he wrote, directed and produced the film. The 52-year-old Bacile told the Journal that he made the film to portray Islam as a hateful religion:
"Islam is a cancer," he said in a telephone interview from his home. "The movie is a political movie. It's not a religious movie."
Mr. Bacile said he raised $5 million from about 100 Jewish donors, whom he declined to identify. Working with about 60 actors and 45 crew members, he said he made the two-hour movie in three months last year in California.
Bacile told the AP that he is now in hiding, and that his full movie has only been shown once, to a nearly empty theater in Hollywood. The AP said Bacile was "apologetic" about the ambassador's death, but blamed lax security and the extremists who perpetrated the attack. "I feel the security system (at the embassies) is no good," he said. "America should do something to change it."
The inflammatory Florida pastor Terry Jones, best known for burning a copy of Islam's holy book in 2011, has also been publicizing the film. President Barack Obama condemned the attacks in a statement Wednesday, but also made an oblique reference to the "Innocence of Muslims" film. "While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants," Obama said.