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The writer/director of Innocence of Muslims, the anti-Islam movie that provoked deadly riots and demonstrations in the Middle East when a 13-minute trailer appeared on the Internet in September 2012, has been released from a California halfway house after serving almost a year in detention for probation violation. Though Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a.k.a. Mark Basseley Youssef, a Coptic Christian who emigrated from Egypt, feels horrible for what happened — “I felt I did a big mistake,” he says. “Some people died because of my movie” — he’s moving ahead with projects that will help spread the message that he insists is at the center of his controversial film.

“My movie was not a religious movie,” he says. “It’s a political movie against terrorism, which has a root. We have to dig; we have to dig the root out to be terrorism free. Believe me, I grow up in this culture and I know how they think. That’s why I try to deliver my information. Somebody get mad, so what.”

Nakoula, who published a book outlining his views in August, is about a quarter finished with a script for a two-hour movie about the unrest and violence against Christians in Egypt during the last three years, and he’s written about 40 hours of what he envisions as a 200-hour TV series about the history of Islam. He also still intends to release the full two-hour version of The Innocence of Muslims, which he says remains safe in a bank vault. “The version that is shown on the Internet, it’s just a little pieces cutting from here and here and here,” he says. “You cannot judge me, judge anything, without seeing the whole thing, and then we can talk.”

Nakoula, who was released on Sept. 26, says his prison term was mostly one of dreary isolation that tested him mentally. But at least some in the prison were aware of his infamy: “When I asked for a Holy Bible, the man who ran the library was from Pakistan,” says Nakoula. “He gave me a Koran. I fight it. I say I did read it and I know more about it than the Muslim people do. And after I fight it, they brought a Bible that was treated badly. But I took it and used to read it.”

When Nakoula was imprisoned, an Egyptian court sentenced him to death in absentia for defaming Islam, but he doesn’t seem concerned about his safety and doesn’t seem to be hiding. He spoke to The Hollywood Reporter and Inside Edition, among others. He even invited people to come visit him at the First Southern Baptist Church where he’s staying in Buena Park, Calif. “I’m never safe,” he says. “I never thought about my life because I’m not bigger than our heroes in Benghazi and Iraq and Afghanistan and New York and Boston. I’m not bigger than them. Who am I? I swear my life is nothing, but my message is very, very important.

“I thought to burn myself in public squares, like some people did,” he says. “[Instead] I try to do something to tell the people, to explain how this culture is. These kids [in the Middle East] think after you kill innocent people that you go to heaven. … I need to protect this country. That’s why I need the movie, to give warning.”

Innocence of Muslims
  • Movie