Who is “Sam Bacile”? (includes video clip)

September 14, 2012

The U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya in flames after being attacked on September 11, 2012

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[Note by Tom Gross]

This is a follow-up to yesterday’s short dispatch (Coptic Christians confirm role in anti-Islam film that media blamed on “Jews”).

Today in The Wall Street Journal, foreign affairs columnist Bret Stephens writes an article clarifying the mystery behind the man posing as Sam Bacile. I attach his piece below.

I wanted to add yesterday, that it was unfortunate that a reporter at The Wall Street Journal, of all papers, appears to have been behind the initial misreporting about who made the anti-Islam YouTube clip which is being blamed by some for causing the ongoing rioting in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen and elsewhere, and that the Journal wrongly reported that an “Israeli Jew” backed by wealthy Jewish donors was behind the film clip – a rumor that has now spread throughout the world.

As I have pointed out many times before in my writings, with one or two exceptions, The Wall Street Journal is almost alone among the quality newspapers of the English-language world in giving Israel a fair hearing on its editorial pages.

Indeed it has gone beyond that. Last Monday in New York, I attended a conference on Israel and its outstanding (and growing) economic achievements, particularly in the field of high tech. That conference was organized by The Wall Street Journal and hosted by WSJ owner Rupert Murdoch who made an impassioned and heartfelt speech on behalf of Israel. (I will probably write more about the conference in a future dispatch.)

After Bret Stephens’s article below, I attach a piece by Claudia Rosett from Forbes magazine about the blacklisted Iranian ships that are calling at Libyan ports. Stopping them, she suggests, is one way the Obama administration might want to beef up security in Libya in the wake of the murder of the American ambassador there.

(Bret Stephens, Claudia Rosett, and Rupert Murdoch are all subscribers to this email list. Thank you too to the journalists at several news outlets who contacted me in response to yesterday’s dispatch to say that they were amending their reports about who was behind the anti-Islam YouTube clip.)

You may also wish to see this article and video clip from ABC News:
Anti-Islam Film Producer Wrote Script in Prison

-- Tom Gross


Who is ‘Sam Bacile’?
New intriguing leads on the man who made the world’s most deadly movie trailer.
By Bret Stephens
The Wall Street Journal
September 14, 12

U.S. diplomatic missions in Libya, Egypt and Yemen have come under violent assault in recent days, all ostensibly on account of an online trailer for a film nobody has seen called “Innocence of Muslims.” The 14-minute clip, almost comically badly acted, depicts the Muslim Prophet Muhammad in a, well, unflattering light. The actors in the clip have insisted they were duped into thinking the film was set 2,000 years ago in (pre-Islamic) Egypt, and that the Muhammad character was named “George.” The anti-Islamic thrust of the clip appears to have been added later by way of some crude overdubbing.

Since then questions have swirled about the identity of the film-maker. On Tuesday, the Journal spoke to a man who claimed to be the director and called himself Sam Bacile. He described himself as a 52-year-old Israeli-American real-estate developer, called Islam a “cancer,” and said the film had been funded by Jewish donors to the tune of $5 million.

But as the Journal [subsequently] reports, there are no records of a “Sam Bacile” either in the U.S. or Israel. The Journal also reports that “Sam Bacile’s” phone number was traced to an address in Cerritos, Calif., which appears to be the home of somebody named Nakoula Bassely Nakoula. Along with a “Sam Basselley,” Mr. Nakoula is listed as one of the film’s producers. In a conversation with the Associated Press, he denied being Sam Bacile but claimed to be a Coptic Christian and the manager of the company that had produced the film. Records indicate that a man named Nakoula Nakoula recently served a prison sentence for bank fraud. Among his known aliases are Mark Basseley Youssef and Youssef M. Basseley.

With help from a tipster, I’ve done some sleuthing myself and come up with a few intriguing leads. Until the page suddenly vanished yesterday, someone named Sam Bassel had a Facebook page in which he identified himself as a male “Movei [sic] maker” in Hollywood, California. Also promoted as a “Favorite” on the page is a movie called “Innocence of bin Laden,” which seems to have been the original title for “Innocence of Muslims.” Most of the written exchanges on the page are in Arabic, and most of Sam Bassel’s Facebook friends appear to be of Arab origin as well. Also listed as a Favorite on the page is a link to a Facebook group called “I am Egyptian.”

The “Sam Bassel” Facebook page abruptly vanished yesterday. But I caught a screen grab of the page before it disappeared.

Note the name under the “Work and Education” tag: “matthew mtta dba,” in Norwalk Calif. A Google search finds that a legal notice for a Fictitious Business Name Statement was posted in the Nov. 4-10, 2010 issue of the San Gabriel Valley Examiner, on page B11. It reads: “The following person(s) doing business as: MATTHEW MTTA” and gives the registrant’s name as “Abanob Basseley,” along with an address in Norwalk.

So who is Abanob Basseley? Yesterday I called a number listed to that name with an address in Cerritos, CA – the same town in which Nakoula Nakoula apparently lives. The number was no longer in service, so the hunt goes on. But a few tentative conclusions:

Sam Bacile/Bassel is not an Israeli-American, and his attempt to pass himself off as one is a potentially deadly slander. His film – if there really is any footage beyond the 14-minute clip – did not cost anything like $5 million to make. There is no cabal of Jewish donors who put up the money. Sam Bassel, or whoever used that name as a Facebook alias, speaks and writes fluent Arabic and likely has an Egyptian background. The name Abanob Basseley is, as one Egyptian friend tells me, as typically Coptic as, say, Mohammad is Muslim or Shlomo is Jewish. (St. Abonoub is a Coptic saint named after an Egyptian child martyred by the Romans.) The fact that the film was publicly promoted by Morris Sadek, the head of the National American Coptic Assembly, also suggests a Coptic connection to the film.

No doubt we’ll learn more about “Sam Bacile” in the days to come. What effect, if any, an accurate account of the video clip’s true origins will have on the protesters rampaging in Arab capitals remains to be seen.



About Those Blacklisted Iranian Ships Calling at Libyan Ports...
By Claudia Rosett
Forbes magazine
September 13, 12


The U.S. is looking for ways to beef up security in Libya, following the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in Benghazi that killed U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Two warships and 50 marines have been dispatched, as a first move. One item that ought to be added to the list: Could something be done to stop Iranian-linked cargo ships, blacklisted by the U.S., from calling at Libyan ports?

Over the past two months, at least three Iranian-linked container ships, all blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury, have called at the Libyan port of Benghazi. One of them, the Parmis, put in at Benghazi Anchorage as recently as August 30. Since then, it has since been meandering along the Libyan coast, going west to the Libyan port of Misurata, then doubling back east this week, past the Libyan port of Sirte. For the Parmis, this is a voyage that began in early August at the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, thence to the United Arab Emirates, then Egypt, and on to Libya. This repeats a similar circuit, in which the Parmis sailed in June from Iran, calling in early July at Benghazi.

That’s not to suggest any ties between Iran, or the Parmis in particular, and Tuesday’s attack on the U.S. post in Benghazi. The full tale of who master-minded or helped stage that armed assault remains to be uncovered. But whatever answers might eventually emerge to those urgent questions, it seems reasonable to warn that amid the chaos and carnage bedeviling Libya, port calls from sanctioned Iranian vessels do not augur well.

Even assuming that Iran had nothing to do with the assault on America’s diplomatic post in Benghazi, Tuesday’s bloodshed there served up a terrible reminder that Libya is ripe for the kind of lethal trouble that Iran’s regime likes to stir and exploit.

The U.S. government has described Iran as the world’s “leading state sponsor of terrorism.” The U.S. State Department, in its most recent annual report on terrorism, released in July, noted that Iran had “increased its terrorist-related activity, likely in an effort to exploit the uncertain political conditions resulting from the Arab spring.” The same report noted that “Iran continued to provide financial, material and logistical support for terrorist and militant groups throughout the Middle East and Central Asia.” This includes “weapons, training and funding” for Palestinian terrorist groups, and “weapons and training” to help Syria’s Assad regime in a crackdown that has cost many thousands of lives.

The same State Department report reminds us that the aspirations of Iran’s terror masters extend all the way to Washington. Just last year U.S. authorities discovered that “elements of the Iranian regime had conceived and funded a plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States in Washington D.C.” Nor is Iran’s regime a stranger to al Qaeda. State’s report also notes that Iran has “allowed AQ members to operate a core facilitation pipeline through Iranian territory, enabling AQ to carry funds and move facilitators and operatives to South Asia and elsewhere.”

Against that backdrop, it is alarming that ship-tracking databases show Iranian-linked ships calling at Benghazi. According to data from Lloyd’s List Intelligence, along with the Parmis, at least two other Iranian-linked container ships have called at Benghazi since mid-July: the Tandis and the Armis. All three vessels have followed similar routes, from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, via the Suez Canal and ports in Egypt, to Libya.

All three ships – the Parmis, Tandis and Armis – appear on Treasury’s blacklist of “blocked vessels.” All three are blacklisted for their connections to Iran’s main state merchant fleet, the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, also known as IRISL. SInce 2008, IRISL has been under U.S. sanctions for its role in abetting Iran’s illicit traffic, notably Iran’s proliferation efforts. Just last fall, the director of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, Adam Szubin, elaborated on IRISL’s “alarming involvement” in “Iran’s illicit procurement activities.” Szubin explained that IRISL “had placed its international network of ships and hubs into the service of the Iranian military, particularly the arm of its military overseeing ballistic missile development.” Whether IRISL might also be delivering cargoes of a disturbing nature seems a question worth exploring.

IRISL, in its effort to dodge sanctions, has made a habit of reassigning nominal ownership of its vessels. renaming and reflagging scores of ships, often multiple times – frequently reshuffling the facades in batch lots among new flags and fresh domiciles for corporate fronts. But each vessel can be tracked via its unique hull number, or IMO, assigned under rules of theInternational Maritime Organization for the life of the ship.

Information from Treasury, combined with shipping data from Lloyd’s, shows that for the ships of this particular trio calling recently at Benghazi, the rotating front companies and flags of convenience have been shuffled around in synchronization. Prior to 2009, all three ships were flagged to Iran, as part of the IRISL fleet, and had clearly Iranian names. For instance, prior to 2009, the Parmis was named the Iran Piroozi. Since then, with the U.S. Treasury chasing them away from one shell arrangement and flag after another, these ships have been reassigned to nominal owners in the Isle of Man, then Panama, then in the Marshall Islands; and reflagged from Iran to Barbados to Tanzania.

What flags or owners these three ships are now operating under is, at the moment, disturbingly difficult to determine. Though, the common theme remains that all are blacklisted by the U.S. for their ties to IRISL, and all three make a habit of calling at Iran, and, as it happens, Egypt and Libya. As of Thursday, while the Parmis was still off the coast of Libya, the Armis was at Ras Isa Terminal in Yemen, and the Tandis was at the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.

According to Lloyd’s, all three ships have been owned recently by an outfit called Andulena Corporation, registered in the Marshall Islands. But according to the Marshall Islands corporate registry, which is actually headquartered in the U.S., in Reston, Virginia, Andulena Corporation is defunct. In a phone interview this week, a registry employee said that the company was annulled on May 30th of this year. All three ships still show up on a number of ship-tracking databases as flagged to Tanzania. But under U.S. pressure, officials of the Tanzania maritime registry agreed last month to stop hosting Iranian-linked ships blacklisted by the U.S. A search of the online Tanzania shipping register shows that the Parmis, Tandis and Armis are no longer listed.

Documents showing the cargoes of such ships are not publicly available. Treasury has in any event warned about IRISL’s “deceptive practices,” which have extended in the past not only to networks of front companies, but to false cargo manifests.

But this much is clear: All three of these container ships, before sailing for Libya, called at the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, where the container terminal is operated by a terror-linked Iranian company called Tidewater Middle East Co. Last year the U.S. Treasury blacklisted Tidewater as “a port operating company owned by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) that has been used by the IRGC for illicit shipments.”

It’s worth adding that under U.S. jurisdiction, it is potentially a crime to have any dealings with these ships. Anyone outside U.S. jurisdiction who engages in business with them is at risk of being cut off from commerce with the U.S.

In remarks Wednesday on the deaths of American personnel in Benghazi, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reaffirmed that “A free and stable Libya is still in America’s interest and security, and we will not turn our back on that.” Surely, regardless of who was behind the Sept. 11 attack, the aspirations for a free and stable Libya are better served without the presence of blacklisted IRISL vessels dispatched from terror-linked ports in Iran. Given the costs and risks shouldered by Americans to help free Libya from the tyranny of Moammar Gaddafi, it would reflect better on Libyans – both in their own interests, and those of their benefactors – were they to honor U.S. sanctions on Iran by turning away its ships. Surely it would be in America’s interest to try much harder to help Libya do that?

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.