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Could man linked with anti-Islam film be in trouble with the law? (+video)

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the man at the center of the controversy over an anti-Islam film, is on probation and has been questioned by federal officials. It is unclear whether he violated the terms of his parole, but if he did, he could face jail.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / September 19, 2012

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the man behind the anti-Muslim movie that has inflamed the Middle East, is escorted by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies from his home early Saturday in Cerritos, Calif.

CBS2-KCAL9/AP

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Los Angeles

Egypt, it seems, has few questions about what to do with Nakoula Basseley Nakoula.

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This week, it charged the man at the center of an international firestorm over a 14-minute YouTube video with insulting Islam and inciting sectarian strife – charges that are largely for show since Mr. Nakoula, an Egyptian immigrant, lives in California.

Yet what the US government is going to do with Nakoula – if anything – is far less clear. Federal probation officers met with Nakoula Saturday, sparking speculation about whether he could be taken into custody.

Nakoula pleaded no contest in 2010 to federal bank fraud charges and was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison. He was released on probation after about a year, but the terms of his probation reportedly bar him from using the Internet or an alias for five years without approval from his probation officer.

Both federal authorities and legal scholars have said the content of the film is protected by constitutional free speech rights. Instead, the lingering question is whether he could be in trouble with his probation officers, since the film was posted on the Internet and Nakoula is alleged to have used the alias "Sam Bacile" to work on it.

“A lot of folks look at probation as slap on wrist, and that’s a misguided view," says Paul Takajian, a retired Los Angeles prosecutor now specializing in criminal law. "Probation really is a sword of Damocles hanging over your head, and if you take a wrong step, you are going to be regretting it.”

"If this man was using a false name to gain access to the Internet, it would certainly appear at first blush that he is in violation and could be taken,” he adds.

Nakoula was released by federal authorities last weekend and is now in hiding with his family. Nakoula told his Coptic Christian bishop that he was not involved with the film, the bishop told Reuters.

But an actress in the film, "Innocence of Muslims," announced Wednesday that she is suing Nakoula for unspecified damages after receiving death threats for her role in the film. She says the movie was shot as an adventure film and the anti-Islamic lines were later dubbed in.

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