The Southern California-based filmmaker behind an anti-Islam video that sparked deadly protests in the Muslim world has denied violating his probation in a 2010 bank fraud case.
Mark Basseley Youssef, 55, appeared in a federal courtroom in Los Angeles on Wednesday. He was heavily guarded, his hands shackled to his waist. His white jumpsuit signified he was being held in protective custody at a federal lockup.
He told Judge Christina Snyder he did not use various aliases or make false statements in September to the officer overseeing his court-appointed probation in a 2010 bank fraud case.
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Placed under oath, Youssef quietly answered "deny" eight times when Snyder asked him to respond to the allegations, which include lying to the probation officer about his role in the making of the controversial 14-minute "Innocence of Muslims" film clip.
Federal prosecutors allege Youssef lied when he told his probation officer that his role in the film was limited to scriptwriter.
Youssef's attorney, Steve Seiden, asked the judge to order his client taken out of protective custody and placed in the general population at the federal jail. After the hearing, Seiden refused to answer questions from the press as to why he would want his client out of protective custody.
"I am not at liberty to answer that question," Seiden said. "It obviously concerns safety issues. I don't make the policy for the Metropolitan Detention Center."
Referring to heated reactions to the film clip, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Dugdale argued that it would be "unwise" to move Youssef at this point, and the judge agreed.
An evidentiary hearing in the case has been set for Nov. 9.
Youssef has been in a federal lockup since Sept. 28 when he was arrested for the probation violations and deemed a flight risk.
He went into hiding after a trailer for the movie "Innocence of Muslims" was posted on YouTube. The film, which denigrates the Prophet Mohammed, has been blamed for sparking deadly protests in Egypt and Libya.
The protests coincided with an attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador. On Tuesday, the State Department said it never believed the Sept. 11, 2012, attack was in reaction to the film.
"My client was not the cause of the violence in the Middle East," Seiden, Youssef's attorney, said outside court after the hearing. "Clearly it was preplanned and that was just an excuse and a trigger point to have more violence."
Enraged Muslims demanded punishment for Youssef, and a Pakistani cabinet minister offered a $100,000 bounty to anyone who kills him. Mir Farooq Hussini, the spokesman for an organization representing about 450 religious schools in Herat province in Afghanistan, offered a $300,000 bounty.
Hussini told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he also is offering a $500,000 reward for the killing of a cleric in Yazd province in neighboring Iran who has allegedly insulted the prophet's wife.
Federal authorities have said Youssef isn't behind bars because of the film or its content, which portrays Muhammad as a religious fraud, womanizer and pedophile. They said Youssef hasn't been truthful about his identity, using different names after he was convicted in 2010 of bank fraud.
Youssef was sentenced to 21 months in prison. He was barred from using computers or the Internet for five years without approval from his probation officer, though prosecutors said none of the violations involved the Internet.
At least three names have been revealed to be associated with Youssef in the past several weeks. Court documents show Youssef legally changed his name from Nakoula Basseley Nakoula in 2002, but he never told federal authorities, who used that as part of the probation violation case against him.
Youssef, an Egyptian-born Christian who's now a U.S. citizen, sought to obtain a passport in his new name but still had a California driver's license as Nakoula, authorities said. Youssef used a third name, Sam Bacile, in association with the film.
Authorities said Youssef used more than a dozen aliases and opened about 60 bank accounts and had more than 600 credit and debit cards to conduct a check fraud scheme.
When he was identified as Nakoula after the movie trailer went viral, federal probation officials questioned him. He denied using the name Sam Bacile, which was listed on the YouTube account that posted the trailer, and said his role in the film was limited to writing the script.
One of the actresses in the "Innocence" film, meanwhile, said her life has been threatened since the video appeared on the Web and has has sued the filmmaker in federal court, demanding that he take the film off the Internet.