Israeli officials said Wednesday they had no record of Israeli citizenship for the filmmaker responsible for an anti-Islam film that sparked deadly riots in Egypt and Libya.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they had not heard of Sam Bacile and there was no record of him being a citizen.
Bacile, a 56-year-old California real-estate developer, wrote, directed and produced a film depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad as a womanizer, fraud and madman. He told the Associated Press he is a Jewish Israeli-American.
On Wednesday, Atlantic correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg reported that Bacile was a fake name and the filmmaker was likely not even Jewish.
Goldberg said he spoke to Steve Klein, who worked with Bacile on the film, and that he confirmed Bacile had no connection to Israel.
“I don’t know that much about him. I met him, I spoke to him for an hour. He’s not Israeli, no. I can tell you this for sure, the State of Israel is not involved … His name is a pseudonym. All these Middle Eastern folks I work with have pseudonyms. I doubt he’s Jewish. I would suspect this is a disinformation campaign,” Klein said.
The film, whose trailer was dubbed into Arabic and posted on YouTube, sparked harsh reactions from Islamists in Cairo and Benghazi, where protesters stormed the US Embassy on Tuesday. In Libya, American Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other embassy staffers were killed when a rocket hit their car as they were attempting to flee.
Hours earlier in Cairo, hundreds of demonstrators managed to scale the walls of the US Embassy, tearing down the American flag and replacing it with one that reads “There is no god but God and Muhammad is his prophet.” The flag, similar to the banner used by Al-Qaeda, is commonly used by ultraconservatives around the region.
Bacile said he had not anticipated such a furious reaction. Speaking by phone from an undisclosed location, Bacile, who went into hiding Tuesday, remained defiant. He said he believes the movie will expose Islam’s flaws to the world.
“Islam is a cancer, period,” he repeatedly said in a solemn, accented tone.
Israel, however, sought to distance itself from Bacile.
“It’s obvious we’ll have to be vigilant. Anything he did or said has nothing to do whatsoever with Israel. He may claim what he wants. This was not done with, or for, or through Israel,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said on Wednesday.
The two-hour movie, “Innocence of Muslims,” cost $5 million to make and was financed with the help of more than 100 Jewish donors, said Bacile, who wrote and directed it.
The film claims Muhammad was a fraud. The14-minute trailer of the movie that reportedly set off the protests — posted on YouTube in the original English version, as well as another dubbed into Egyptian Arabic — shows an amateur cast performing a wooden dialogue of insults disguised as revelations about Muhammad, whose obedient followers are presented as a cadre of goons.
It depicts Muhammad as a feckless philanderer who approved of child sexual abuse, among other overtly insulting claims that have caused outrage.
Bacile said he believes the movie will help his native land by exposing Islam’s flaws to the world.
Muslims find it offensive to depict Muhammad in any manner, let alone to insult the prophet. A Danish newspaper’s 2005 publication of 12 caricatures of the prophet triggered riots in many Muslim countries.
Though Bacile was apologetic about the American who was killed as a result of the outrage over his film, he blamed lax embassy security and the perpetrators of the violence.
“I feel the security system [at the embassies] is no good,” said Bacile. “America should do something to change it.”
Klein said the filmmaker is concerned for family members who live in Egypt. Bacile declined to confirm.
Klein said he vowed to help Bacile make the movie, but warned him that “you’re going to be the next Theo van Gogh.” Van Gogh was a Dutch filmmaker killed by a Muslim extremist in 2004 after making a film that was perceived as insulting to Islam.
“We went into this knowing this was probably going to happen,” Klein said.
Bacile’s film was dubbed into Egyptian Arabic by someone he doesn’t know, but he speaks enough Arabic to confirm that the translation is accurate. The movie was made in three months in the summer of 2011, with 59 actors and about 45 people behind the camera.
The full film has been screened once, to a mostly empty theater in Hollywood earlier this year, said Bacile.
On Wednesday, US President Barack Obama ordered increased security to protect American diplomatic personnel around the world.
“I strongly condemn the outrageous attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi,” Obama said, adding the four Americans “exemplified America’s commitment to freedom, justice, and partnership with nations and people around the globe.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent condolences to the US, saying Israel understood what it means to be besieged by terrorist elements.
“If there’s one country that understands what the Americans went through on 9/11, it’s Israel, which has stood at the forefront of the battle against terror, which has lost many dear people, and which identifies deeply with the American people at this hour,” he said in a statement.