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Filmmaker didn’t spark violence: lawyer

Seiden, defending Youssef, briefs the media outside a courthouse in Los Angeles.

LOS ANGELES: A lawyer for the man behind the “Innocence of Muslims” video denied Wednesday his client was to blame for a wave of violence across the Middle East, as he appeared in court for a second time.

Attorney Steven Seiden said U.S. congressional hearings in Washington would shed more light on the cause of the unrest that killed a number of people, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya. “My client was not the cause of the violence in the Middle East. Clearly it was pre-planned, that was just an excuse and a trigger point,” said the lawyer for Mark Basseley Youssef, 55.

“As you know, there [are] congressional hearings going on now as to the source of the real violence in the Middle East,” he said after the brief court hearing in Los Angeles.

When the violence erupted, “the press, the president, secretary of state were blaming my client for the violence in the Mid-east, and then a week later we learned that it was all pre-planned attacks to coincide with 9/11.

“We’ll see what they come up with, and we’ll see how that impacts his case,” he added.

Youssef – previously listed as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula – was handcuffed, shackled at the waist and clad in a white jumpsuit, meaning he is under protective custody at a detention center next to the downtown LA courthouse.

The amateurish film depicting the Prophet Mohammad as a thuggish deviant offended many Muslims, and sparked a wave of anti-U.S. protests in a number of countries that cost several lives and saw mobs set U.S. missions, schools and businesses ablaze.

On Sept. 11, the anniversary of the Al-Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington, U.S. ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

Initially, U.S. officials said that attack followed spontaneous protests against the anti-Islam film, which were occurring in other countries in the region.

But this week, U.S. administration officials gave a detailed account of the assault, in which dozens of armed men invaded the consulate setting it on fire and hunting down staff.

At a hearing in Washington Wednesday, U.S. lawmakers were told that the consulate in Benghazi was a sitting target with weak security as requests for extra staffing were denied despite a rising Al-Qaeda threat.

Youssef was arrested last month for eight breaches of his probation for a 2010 bank fraud conviction, and attended a preliminary probation-revocation hearing Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder.

In February 2009, a federal indictment accused Nakoula and others of fraudulently obtaining the identities and Social Security numbers of customers at Wells Fargo branches in California and withdrawing $860 from them.

At Wednesday’s hearing, held amid tight security in an almost empty court – media were allowed to watch events by video conference from a separate building – the judge read the eight probation violation charges against him.

Youssef, a balding man with glasses perched on his head, said the single word “deny” to each of the accusations. He was mostly shielded from camera view by his lawyer.

None of the alleged violations have to do with the content of the movie or whether Youssef was the one who posted the 14-minute trailer to YouTube. Federal authorities are seeking two years in prison for Youssef, who remains in custody, held without bail.

Among the violations Youssef denied Wednesday were using “Nakoula” as his name throughout his bank fraud case, obtaining a fraudulent California driver’s license and telling federal authorities that his role in the film was limited to writing the script. Prosecutors have previously said there is evidence showing Youssef had a larger role in the film, but they declined to elaborate.

At least three names have been associated with Youssef since the film trailer surfaced – Sam Bacile, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula and Youssef. Bacile was the name attached to the YouTube account that posted the video.

Court documents show Youssef legally changed his name from Nakoula in 2002, though when he was tried he identified himself as Nakoula. He wanted the name change because he believed Nakoula sounded like a girl’s name, according to court documents.

He was ordered kept in custody, and a new hearing was set for Nov. 9.

His attorney explained that Youssef had denied all allegations on procedural grounds.

“People go to court all the time and plead not guilty and then later on things transpire in the case as things are known,” Seiden said when asked why his client denied he changed his name.

“We’ll see how this plays out on Nov. 9.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 12, 2012, on page 11.

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