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Coptic Christians react to alleged anti-Muslim filmmaker's arrest

LA County Sheriff deputies escort the man known as Nakoula Besseley Nakoula from his Cerritos home earlier this month.
LA County Sheriff deputies escort the man known as Nakoula Besseley Nakoula from his Cerritos home earlier this month.
Edwin Calderon/NBC LA

News of yesterday's arrest of the alleged anti-Muslim filmmaker known as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula is meeting with a mixed sense of relief from Egyptian Coptic Christians in Southern California, where he lives and where the inflammatory video "Innocence of Muslims" was shot.

Federal authorities arrested the Cerritos resident, who identified himself as Mark Basseley Youseff in court yesterday, in Los Angeles for violating terms of his probation following a 2010 bank fraud case. Among other things, his probation terms restricted his use of the Internet. The video, which mocks Islam and has been blamed for triggering deadly violence in the Middle East, was posted to YouTube with an Arabic voice-over.

Nakoula is Egyptian American and a Coptic Christian, a sizeable religious minority in Egypt with roots that date back to the early days of Christianity. After his identity became known earlier this month, his local co-religionists distanced themselves from Nakoula, condemning the film and the violent reaction abroad.

As news of his arrest spreads, some hope it will extinguish the fire that film is believed to have sparked. Observers have blamed violent reaction to the film for an attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Libya that led to the deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, and to protests in several majority-Islamic countries.

"It has already calmed down in Egypt...this may put to rest that the guy that they are seeking to have revenge (on) is not available any more. That could help that matter, not only in Egypt but all over the world," said Mounir Bishay, president of the group Christian Copts of California. 

Bishay and others said they had yet to field much reaction from relatives in Egypt, as news of Nakoula's arrest is still settling there. Father Mauritius Mikhail of the St. George Coptic Orthodox Church in Bellflower, which Nakoula once attended - infrequently, Mikhail said - said the news is also still getting around among Southland Copts. But he reiterated that "from the very beginning, we had a sense of disapproval about what he had done."

Father Joseph Boules, the pastor of a small church in Anaheim who has spoken on behalf of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Los Angeles, expressed frustration over negative attention placed on Copts since Nakoula's identity was revealed. The archdiocese's Bishop Serapion even came under fire for what some said was not a strong enough condemnation of Nakoula's alleged actions, although early on the diocese released a statement of opposition to the film and the violence abroad.

Boules said that the violence can't all be blamed on the film, and that it's time to move on:  "I wonder why we keep going back to the movie," Boules said. "Everyone has condemned it. It is not worthy of this attention at all."

Federal prosecutors charged Nakoula with eight probation violaitons, including the use of aliases and lying to law enforcement. A judge denied bail yesterday, with the prosecution arguing that he poses a flight risk. He had remained in hiding until his arrest, and he's reportedly put his Cerritos home up for sale.

A downside to the arrest is its effect on Nakoula's family, Bishay said.

"This may cause hardship to his family financially," he said. "I don’t know how they are going to deal with that...we feel for the wife and the kids that have been affected by that whole thing."

Nakoula will remain in custody until his next hearing.