Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Egypt Charges Coptic Christians Linked to Infamous Video

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

CAIRO, EGYPT (ANS) -- Egyptian authorities have charged seven Coptic Christians living in the United States and a Florida pastor with insulting Islam, and inciting sectarian strife for their alleged links to an online video that has enraged much of the Muslim world.

Egyptian protesters gather around a burning vehicle in downtown Cairo, Egypt, early Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012
According to a story by Ed Payne and Saad Abedine of CNN, Egypt's public prosecutor announced the charges Tuesday. It is the latest development in the deadly backlash against the low-budget, amateurish 14-minute movie trailer produced privately in the United States and posted on YouTube.

The clip from "The Innocence of Muslims" mocks the Prophet Mohammed as a womanizer, child molester and killer. CNN said "Innocence of Muslims" was an obscure Internet video until Sept. 11, when rioters, seizing on it, breached the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.

Protesters also attacked the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killing U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

CNN said the charges -- largely symbolic because the accused all live outside Egypt -- name alleged filmmaker Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, who is identified by Egyptian officials as Elia Bassili.

According to CNN, reports that Nakoula is a Coptic Christian have raised concern about a possible backlash against the minority religious group in Egypt, where tensions between Copts and Muslims have risen recently.
Egypt also charged Morris Sadek, who is believed to have posted the clip to YouTube.

CNN said the Florida pastor charged is Terry Jones, who was allegedly contacted by the filmmaker to help promote the video. Jones sparked some protests in Muslim countries last year when he staged a trial of Islam at his church.

CNN said the others accused were identified as Morcos Aziz; Fikri Zokloma, also known as Esmat Zokloma; Nabil Bissada; Nahed Metwali; and Nader Nicola. Aside from Nakoula, who lives in California and Jones in Florida. It was not clear where the others live in the United States.

In addition to charges of insulting the Islamic religion, insulting Mohammed and inciting sectarian strife, all eight are charged with harming national unity and spreading false information, according to Adel Saaed, a spokesman for the prosecutor's office.

CNN said Egyptian authorities added the names to their airport watch list.

CNN reported prosecutors said they will ask the international police agency, Interpol, to add the names to its wanted lists. U.S. authorities would also be contacted, according to prosecutors.

Although Washington has made it clear that it did not sanction the film, a week of protests have rippled from Morocco to Malaysia, spurring U.S. officials to increase security at diplomatic missions and demand other governments to take action.

CNN said Sherif Doss, head of the Egyptian Coptic Association, said the accused Copts have created their own "cult-like" organization in the United States, have appointed their own minister and are "disregarding any church or religious norms."

Call to kill Americans

CNN said that as part of the fallout from the video, al Qaeda's affiliate in North Africa on Tuesday urged Muslims in the region to kill U.S. government representatives and called the death of Stevens a "gift."

"We encourage all Muslims to continue to demonstrate and escalate their protests ... and to kill their (American) ambassadors and representatives or to expel them to cleanse our land from their wickedness," said the statement from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

The group called last week's killing of Stevens "the best gift you (can) give to his arrogant and unjust administration."

CNN reported that State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland reiterated the Obama administration's stance that the video, which she called "reprehensible," was no justification for violence.

U.S. and Libyan officials have held a series of high-level meetings to "assess what went wrong" in Benghazi, a senior Libyan official said Tuesday. Some of the U.S. officials had flown in for the meetings, which included security experts.

Following the attack, Libya suspected an increase in U.S. drone activity over eastern portions of the country and were worried the Obama administration would take military action because of domestic political considerations, the official told CNN.

CNN said Mohamed al-Magariaf, newly elected president of Libya's parliament, spoke with the White House "to contain the situation," the official said.

CNN reported the official said the government urged the Americans to work together "in full partnership," because any military action during this "fragile and sensitive situation" would give "an excuse" to the two main threats to the state; extremists and loyalists to the deposed Gadhafi regime.

The official expressed concern with the deteriorating regional picture.

"They (the United States) are losing Egypt, if they lose Libya ... they and we cannot afford to lose our partnership."

CNN correspondent Brianna Keilar pressed the White House on Tuesday on whether the Libya attack was planned or spontaneous.

"We saw no evidence to back up claims by others that this was a preplanned or premeditated attack," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. "But there is a lot that is under investigation here, and as more facts come to light, if they change that assessment, we'll make that clear."

CNN said Libya has taken steps to arrest those responsible for last week's deadly consulate attack, bringing in dozens for questioning over the weekend, Libyan officials said.

The exact number of arrests was unclear. CNN said one Libyan official said those arrested included suspects from Mali and Algeria as well as al Qaeda sympathizers.

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