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Anti-Islam Film May Be Connected To Libya Attack


We're going to hear more now about the film that was, at least in part, the catalyst for the violence in Libya, as well as protests in Egypt. Some news outlets are saying the filmmaker has gone into hiding.

As NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports, very few people have actually seen the supposed two-hour movie, if it exists at all.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: The film that has circulated on the Internet is about 12 minutes long, and it's said to be the trailer. The full version has been screened only once at a theater in Hollywood, reportedly attended by almost no one. The film is amateurish. It looks like something out of "Saturday Night Live."


BLAIR: The film purports to be about the life of the Prophet Mohammed and the profile is not flattering.


BLAIR: The filmmaker has been identified as Sam Becile, which is probably a pseudonym since there are no records of such a person, and he definitely isn't known in Hollywood. When the 12-minute preview was posted on YouTube in July, it didn't get that much attention. So how did it cause such upheaval in Egypt and Libya?

Spreading the word about the film were two men, an Egyptian-born Christian activist in Washington, D.C., named Morris Sadek and his friend Terry Jones, pastor of a church in Florida who made headlines last year when he burned a Quran. Terry Jones says he hasn't seen the full two-hour film but he liked what he saw in the preview.

PASTOR TERRY JONES: I'm always happy to see that people are standing up against radical Islam, and trying to reveal the truth.

BLAIR: For the anniversary of 9/11, Jones held an event called International Mohammed Judgment Day, described as a day to put Mohammed on trial.

Dion Nissenbaum, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, says Morris Sadek promoted the event to the Middle East.

DION NISSENBAUM: He's a pretty controversial figure and he has an email list with hundreds of Egyptian journalists on it. And he sent out a blast email last week talking about the Terry Jones event on 9/11, which was also an attack on Islam. And it had a link to this "Innocence of Muslims" video in it.

BLAIR: The film was translated into Arabic and covered by Egyptian TV news.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 4: (Foreign language spoken)

BLAIR: But it was not talked about on Libyan TV, says Reza Aslan, senior adjunct fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He said the online rumor mill in Libya made all kinds of claims about the film.

REZA ASLAN: The apparent assumption of the mob that attacked the Libyan embassy was that this film was being broadcast widely on American TV for the anniversary of September 11th.

BLAIR: Aslan says those misperceptions are provoking groups that don't need any more provocation to commit violence.

Today, General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, called Pastor Terry Jones and asked him to withdraw his support of the film.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.