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Southern California man accused of making anti-Muslim film set to complete sentence

LA County Sheriff deputies escort Mark Basseley Youssef from his Cerritos home in September 2012.
LA County Sheriff deputies escort Mark Basseley Youssef from his Cerritos home in September 2012.
Edwin Calderon/NBC LA

The Southern California man who created an inflammatory short film last year seen as an insult to Islam and which stoked protests across the Muslim world will be released from federal prison at the end of September.

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 56, has been serving roughly the last month of his sentence in a halfway house. He’ll be released on September 26.

Nakoula was sentenced to a year in prison for probation violations stemming from a 2010 bank fraud conviction.

Authorities learned of the probation violations when the film he created Innocence of Muslims caught the attention of Middle Eastern news outlets via YouTube. Nakoula, using the name Sam Bacile, posted the video online. As part of the restriction placed on his probation, he’s not allowed to use aliases or the Internet without prior permission.

It was about one year ago when news stories and officials began linking the video to the attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya on the night of September 11, 2012. Four people died in that attack, including Ambassador Chris Stevens of Northern California.

Over the past year, it’s been revealed through hearings and investigations that the assault was planned with no link to the video. The FBI has released photos of five of the men it believes are responsible for the attack, but those men have not been arrested.

Still the controversial film sparked an emotional response from Muslim-Americans and others. Torrance resident Akmal Ahmed said he felt the movie was made to widen the already large gap that exists between Americans, Muslims and the media.

“He shouldn’t have gotten media coverage or any attention because the video was just ridiculous,” Ahmed said.

Nakoula, who was living in Cerritos at the time, has been identified as an Egyptian-born Coptic Christian. Out of fear of potential backlash, Southern California police departments added extra patrols around Coptic churches at that time.

Father Joseph Boules of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Los Angeles said locally there was no backlash or violence. Boules said the controversy left him largely disappointed that government officials and people were quick to lump Coptic Christians with the video.

“Having lived in these countries when you see something like the bombings, I think, Muslims and Christians and a lot of people knew it was clear that this was a coordinated attack, that it was not a spontaneous demonstration that got out of hand,” said Boules.

But many Muslim-Americans and Coptic Christians in Southern California said one positive thing that has happened over the last year is more interest, questions and opportunities to educate people about the two religions.

Meanwhile, the Florida pastor who helped promote Nakoula’s video was arrested Wednesday in Polk County for unlawful conveyance of fuel. He told Florida authorities he was headed to a nearby park and was towing a large, barbecue-style grill filled with kerosene. He said he was planning to burn Qurans on the anniversary of the attacks on the U.S. Consulate.