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Staff and crew of film that ridiculed Muslims say they were 'grossly misled'

By Moni Basu and Tom Watkins, CNN
September 13, 2012 -- Updated 1504 GMT (2304 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: "This makes me sick to my stomach," actress says
  • Casting call advertisement describes the movie as an "adventure film"
  • A Florida pastor who burned a Quran says he was asked to distribute the film

Editor's note: Read a version of this story in Arabic

(CNN) -- The 80 cast and crew members involved in the making of the movie that has roiled much of the Islamic world said Wednesday they were "grossly misled" about its intent and expressed sorrow over the resulting violence.

"The entire cast and crew are extremely upset and feel taken advantage of by the producer," they said in a statement to CNN about the movie, "Innocence of Muslims."

"We are 100% not behind this film and were grossly misled about its intent and purpose," continued the statement, which was sent to CNN by a member of the production staff who asked not to be identified for security reasons. "We are shocked by the drastic rewrites of the script and lies that were told to all involved. We are deeply saddened by the tragedies that have occurred."

Mystery swirls around anti-Islam film

Four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed Tuesday in Libya amid a regional furor over the film, which mocks Islam's prophet.

A casting call published in July 2011 in Backstage magazine and in other publications for actors identifies the working title of the movie as "Desert Warrior" and describes it as a "historical Arabian Desert adventure film."

An actress in the film who asked not to be identified said the original script did not include a Prophet Muhammed character. She added that she and other actors complained that their lines had been changed.

The actress said she spoke Wednesday with the producer, who is identified in the advertisement as Sam Bassiel. "He said he wrote the script because he wants the Muslims to quit killing," she said. "I had no idea he was doing all this."

Attackers set the U.S. Consulate compound in Benghazi, Libya, on fire on September 11, 2012. The U.S. ambassador and three other U.S. nationals were killed during the attack. The Obama administration initially blamed a mob inflamed by a U.S.-produced movie that mocked Islam and its Prophet Mohammed, but later said the storming of the consulate appears to have been a terrorist attack. View photos of protesters storming the U.S. Embassy buildings in 2012. Attackers set the U.S. Consulate compound in Benghazi, Libya, on fire on September 11, 2012. The U.S. ambassador and three other U.S. nationals were killed during the attack. The Obama administration initially blamed a mob inflamed by a U.S.-produced movie that mocked Islam and its Prophet Mohammed, but later said the storming of the consulate appears to have been a terrorist attack. View photos of protesters storming the U.S. Embassy buildings in 2012.
Attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya
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"I would never be involved in a film to ever hurt or bring harm to anybody," she told CNN. "This makes me sick to my stomach to think that I was involved in that movie that brought death to somebody else."

The actress said the character of Muhammed in the movie was identified as George when it was shot, and that she returned afterward and read other lines that may have been dubbed into the piece.

YouTube restricts video access over Libyan violence

A member of the production staff who worked directly on the film and has a copy of the original script corroborated the actor's account, adding that it mentions neither Muhammed nor Islam.

The Wall Street Journal identified the filmmaker as Sam Bacile, an Israeli-American real estate developer. The Journal reported that, in its telephone interview with Bacile, he characterized his film as "a political effort to call attention to the hypocrisies of Islam."

"Islam is a cancer," he told the newspaper. "The movie is a political movie. It's not a religious movie."

CNN has not been able to contact Bacile and cannot verify that he made the movie. A CNN search of public records on Sam Bacile came up empty.

Israel's Foreign Ministry said it doesn't know who Bacile is.

Reaction: Libya, West condemn killing

"This guy is totally anonymous. At this point no one can confirm he holds Israeli citizenship and even if he did we are not involved," ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said. "No Israeli institution, government department or office has any involvement in this. This guy acted on his own behalf."

In Egypt and Libya, mobs targeted U.S. missions and blamed America for the film. In the end, Stevens and three other Americans in the Libyan city of Benghazi were dead, although it was not clear whether that attack was solely incited by the film.

Consultant Steve Klein told CNN he worked with Bacile on the movie and said the filmmaker had gone into hiding.

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"He's very depressed, and he's upset," Klein said Wednesday. "I talked to him this morning, and he said that he was very concerned for what happened to the ambassador."

Klein, however, said it was not the film's fault that protests had turned bloody.

Casting further doubt on the filmmaker's identity, The Atlantic quoted Klein as saying Sam Bacile is a pseudonym and "he did not know Bacile's real name." CNN could not immediately reach Klein for his response to that report.

An online trailer for the film depicts Islam as a fraudulent religion bent on getting rid of nonbelievers.

Cartoonish scenes show Muhammed as a womanizer, child molester and ruthless killer. Other scenes show security forces ordered to do nothing as rampaging Muslims destroy Christian homes, and a donkey anointed the first Muslim animal.

Many Muslims find any depiction of Muhammed to be offensive -- a Danish newspaper's publication in 2005 of Mohammed caricatures triggered riots -- and derogatory depictions of the prophet are considered by some to be worse.

"The film is offensive to the prophet and immoral," said Egyptian Prime Minister Hashem Kandil. "We call on the great people of Egypt to exercise restraint when expressing their anger."

Muslim sensitivities around Prophet Mohammed

The prime minister called on the United States to take legal action against the makers of the film, though it was not clear that it violates any U.S. law.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Bacile said he raised $5 million from about 100 Jewish donors to make the two-hour movie in California last year. Based on the trailer, the movie appears to have been produced on a low budget.

The movie, which was posted in July on YouTube, got more notice after Egyptian television recently aired segments and anti-Islam activists, including Egyptian-born Coptic Christian Morris Sadek, promoted it online.

Terry Jones, the Florida pastor whose Quran-burning last year sparked deadly riots in Afghanistan, said he had been contacted to help distribute the film.

"The film is not intended to insult the Muslim community, but it is intended to reveal truths about Muhammed that are possibly not widely known," Jones said.

"It is very clear that God did not influence him (Muhammed) in the writings of the Quran," said Jones, who went on to blame Muslims' fear of criticism for the protests, rather than the film.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called Jones on Wednesday to ask him to withdraw his support for the film, according to Col. David Lapan, Dempsey's spokesman.

"Jones' support of the film risks causing more violence and death," Lapan said.

Tensions mounted Wednesday as the United States deployed Marines to Libya.

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood -- the former party of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy -- has called for peaceful protests against the film on Friday, Islam's day of religious observance.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban charged that the movie was made with the permission of the U.S. government. The First Amendment prohibits the government from interfering with free expression.

President Hamid Karzai condemned the film as abhorrent and an act of desecration. "There could be many deaths once news of this video and Pastor Terry Jones' comments get out," said Karzai's deputy spokesman.

The issue is sensitive in Afghanistan, where throngs of people this year protested NATO's burning of Qurans at Bagram Airfield. U.S. President Barack Obama said the act was unintentional, but the uproar nonetheless was huge.

In America, a Muslim advocacy group called the movie "trashy" and said its producers represented neither the United States nor the Christian faith.

"We urge that this ignorant attempt to provoke the religious feelings of Muslims in the Arabic-speaking world be ignored and that its extremist producers not be given the cheap publicity they so desperately seek," said the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Facebook sprouted several pages dedicated to condemning the film, including one called "Israelis, Jews & Americans Against Sam Bacile's 'Innocence of Muslims' Film."

A post on that page simply said: "IM-Bacile."

Witnessing protests in Libya or Egypt? Share your photos on CNN iReport.

CNN's Jennifer Wolfe, Miguel Marquez, Brian Todd and Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

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