The YouTube video that spawned a wave of violent protests across the Islamic world might be more than a crude exercise in anti-Muslim propaganda.
Walid Shoebat, a Middle East pundit and reformed terrorist, says there is reason to believe that the “Innocence of Muslims” video was a hoax designed to spark the huge outpouring of Muslim rage that it did.
Shoebat, who claims he is related to a man who was involved in criminal activities with one of the video’s producers, knows something about terrorists. He says he used to be one — a radicalized Muslim who, in his own words, was “willing to die for the cause of jihad.” He has since converted to Christianity and lives in the United States, where he writes and lectures widely on the Islamic terror threat.
Shoebat grew up in Beit Sahour near Bethlehem in the Palestinian Arab territories. So did Eiad Salameh, a man Shoebat says is his cousin.Shoebat says Salameh was a partner in crime with Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, producer of the YouTube video, which has acted as a fuse igniting an explosion of Muslim anger directed toward the West.
Nakoula Basseley Nakoula was first identified as Sam Bacile, the name he used to upload the video to YouTube. To the Wall Street Journal on Sept. 12, he claimed to be a real estate developer, an Israeli Jew who had raised “$5 million from 100 Jewish donors.” The Associated Press quickly reported he was not an Israeli, but in fact Nakoula Basseley Nakoula (that, too, may turn out to be a pseudonym, as he told a judgeSept. 27 that his real name was Mark Basseley Youssef). Taken in for questioning by L.A. sheriff’s deputies on Sept. 15, he at first denied any involvement with the film, but then said he was the writer and director. And he was not Jewish but an Egyptian Coptic Christian.
The media have settled on this narrative. Nakoula’s motive is assumed to be hatred of Islam for oppression of his people. But the only thing that can be said with certainty about Nakoula is that he is a convicted felon with a rap sheet. He was arrested in California in June 2009 onbank fraud charges, and accused by federal authorities with stealing nearly $800,000 as part of a check-kiting ring.
Nakoula had assumed numerous aliases to conduct his illegal activities, prosecutors say. According to a criminal complaint filed that month, he went by the names Thomas J. Tanas, Ahmad Hamdy, Erwin Salameh and Nicola Bacily. He was convicted and sentenced to 21 months in prison, a year short of what federal prosecutors wanted. Even that sentence he did not serve in full because he cooperated with authorities in identifying the man he claimed was the criminal group’s ringleader: Eiad Salameh.
Prosecutors say Nakoula and Salameh were partners in crime at least since 2008, although there is indirect evidence the two were in contact as far back as 2000. The June 2009 criminal complaint states, “Video surveillance photos for the Salameh WAMU [Washington Mutual Bank] account appear to depict Nakoula conducting the following transactions: i. depositing $1,950.00 into the Salameh WAMU account at the WAMU Bank branch located at 8901 Valley View Street, Buena Park, California 90620 on September 10, 2008.”
The connection between Salameh and Nakoula is key to understanding the very real possibility that “Innocence of Muslims” was a Muslim project. Salameh, the Smoking Gun website reportedSept. 14, is “a notorious fraudster who has been tracked for more than a decade by state and federal investigators.”
The Justice Department apparently knew Salameh was a bad actor. In arguing for leniency for Nakoula in 2010, Justice Department lawyers said in court documents, “We all know what’s gonna happen. Salamay [Salameh] is gonna get arrested someday and based on the debriefing information turned over, he is gonna enter a guilty plea.” The Los Angeles Police Department had been investigating Salameh until 2008 but handed over the investigation to the FBI’s Santa Ana, Calif., office when it wasinformed of an ongoing federal investigation.Salameh was eventually arrested in Canada for presenting a stolen passport and deported to the Palestinian territories.
“He hates Copts with a passion and he would never deal with Copts, and here he’s dealing with Copts,” Shoebat said of his cousin’s involvement with Nakoula. “All my life he talked about how he hated the Copts. What was he doing in bed with a Copt? … It just doesn’t add up.”
The converse is also true. Why would an Islam-hating Copt (Nakoula said “Islam is a cancer” in his interview with the Wall Street Journal) partner with a Copt-hating Muslim?
Also strange, Shoebat says, is that no one has located Nakoula’s family, which is said to hail from the Al-Bahira governorate in Egypt. “In the Middle East, no one can hide. You are known by your clan,” Shoebat says. “Why can’t Egypt produce the family of this man if he’s indeed from Al-Bahira in Egypt? I should be able to plug in the name and find the Bahira family — nothing.”
However, there is a Nakoula clan in Beit Sahour, a Palestinian Arab town east of Bethlehem, where Salameh and Shoebat once lived. There is also a Tanas clan. One of Nakoula’s other names given in the June 2009 court complaint was Thomas J. Tanas.
Another pseudonym Nakoula went by was Ahmad Hamdy. Eric Shen, the U.S. postal inspector who authored the June 2009 court complaint against Nakoula, wrote, “Specifically, I identified a Capital One credit card issued in 2005 in the name ‘Ahmad Hamdy,’ a Chase credit card issued in 2007 in the names ‘PJ Tobacco’ and ‘Ahmed Hamdy,’ and two B of A credit cards both issued in 2005 in the name ‘Ahemd [sic] Hamdy.’ ”