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Coptic Christians condemn anti-Muslim film, distance themselves from alleged filmmaker

A screenshot from a trailer for controversial anti-Islam film,
A screenshot from a trailer for controversial anti-Islam film, "Innocence of Muslims."
sinahi tenurche/YouTube

Coptic Christians in Southern California are distancing themselves from the alleged director of an anti-Muslim film that some observers say has sparked deadly violence in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere in the Middle East. The victims include U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in the Libyan city of Benghazi.

This morning, the Associated Press reported that U.S. authorities had named 55-year-old Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a Coptic Christian based in Southern California, as the director of a film titled "Innocence of Muslims," which mocks Muslims and the prophet Muhammad. In the report, Nakoula has denied directing the film. He says he only assisted with film logistics. Nakoula identified the filmmaker as Sam Bacile, although cell phone records trace back to Nakoula.

The Coptic Orthodox Church Diocese of Los Angeles issued a statement this morning condemning and distancing itself from the film. An excerpt:

...the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Los Angeles, Southern California & Hawaii strongly rejects dragging the respectable Copts of the Diaspora in the latest production of an inflammatory movie about the prophet of Islam. The producers of this movie should be responsible for their actions. The name of our blessed parishioners should not be associated with the efforts of individuals who have ulterior motives.

Copts across the Diaspora never participated in any humiliation or violence against those who often persecute Christians. It is not the Christian way to respond to hatred with hate. 

Father Joseph Boules, pastor of a small Coptic church in Anaheim that is part of the diocese, said he had not heard of anyone by the name of the alleged filmmaker. 

"Anyone who would have these extreme views would most not likely be an obedient son of the church," Boules said. "We don't promote any kind of violence or insensitivity to people's belief system." 

Published reports say Nakoula pleaded no contest two years ago to federal bank fraud charges in California. The court ordered him to pay more than $790,000 in restitution. He was also sentenced to 21 months in federal prison.

Christian Copts are a sizeable religous minority in Egypt, with roots that date back to the early days of Christianity. Their long history of persecution has made many fearful of more problems in light of political changes that took place in the country last year. Father Boules said he feared for the safety of Copts in Egypt now.

"They are already having a bad time in a very unstable, volatile situation," he said. "This would be the last thing for them to worry about."

An estimated quarter-million Copts live in Southern California, said Mounir Bishay, an Egyptian immigrant and president of Christian Copts of California.

"The Coptic people have nothing to do with this (film)," Bishay said. "We have a million Copts in the U.S. A film like that can be done by one person. Whether it is a Copt or a Jew or an American or a European or whatever, this is one person that did something, and only he is responsible for it."