WASHINGTON / CAIRO // It was a very deliberate attempt at provoking a reaction, a "political" film whose possible consequences were foreseen, made by a group of hitherto unknown anti-Islamic activists based in California.
Now the filmmaker whose movie about the Prophet Mohammed sparked violent protests in Libya and Egypt and the killing of four Americans, including the US ambassador to Libya, and an undetermined number of Libyans, has gone into hiding.
One of the people behind the movie said the reaction had been predicted.
Steve Klein, a consultant to the movie, said that even though he and others involved it the film realised such attacks "could happen", producers went ahead because they wanted to "shock" young Muslims into understanding "the truth about what Mohammed did".
"I regret that Muslims always have to resort to violence when criticised," he said.
The man who wrote and directed the movie goes by the name of Sam Bacile and says he is an Israeli Jew who works as a California-based property developer. Neither his background nor profession could be independently verified and Mr Klein said the name was a pseudonym.
Mr Bacile has told anyone who cares to listen that his motive in making the movie was "political".
He said his movie was an attempt at "fighting [Islam] with ideas". The movie itself, entitled Innocence of Muslims, reportedly cost US$5 million (Dh18.3m) to produce, money that Mr Bacile says was raised from Jewish donors.
The film, whose trailer was first posted on YouTube in an original English version in July, with another later dubbed into Egyptian Arabic, depicts the Prophet as a womaniser and fraud who makes up dubious religious tenets on the spur of the moment to suit his immediate needs.
It is replete with insults and barbs aimed directly at the Prophet, whose followers and companions are portrayed as thugs and opportunists.
Mr Klein said he was motivated to make the movie once it became clear to him and those he works with - whom he described as "Middle Eastern Jews and Christians" - that their efforts to pacify radical young Muslims in California were failing, and that the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, "was still sending fundamentalists across the border from Mexico".
Mr Klein said Mr Bacile - whom he described as a "very interesting guy" who had lived in several countries and who had to flee the Middle East before coming to the US - had first approached him with the idea for the movie, which was originally entitled The Innocence of Osama bin Laden and was first shown three months ago.
"We handed out flyers in mosques across California hoping to entice young people with that title. But it was a total failure, no one showed up," Mr Klein said yesterday.
He said the movie was in part a "shock tactic" to reach what he called a "minority" of very violent young radical Muslims, but maintained it was also an attempt at showing the truth. Mr Bacile told the Associated Press on Tuesday that the "main problem" was someone on screen portraying the Prophet.
"It makes them mad," Mr Bacile said. "But we have to open the door. After September 11 everybody should be in front of the judge, even Jesus, even Mohammed."
The film's dubbing into Egyptian Arabic has led some to suggest that there is an Egyptian Coptic connection to the movie. The trailer starts with a scene depicting a riot against Christians in an Arab country, presumably Egypt.
But Mr Klein remained circumspect about the identities of those involved in the movie, all now "in hiding", as well as the sources of funding.
The Maspero Youth Union (MYU) and the Coalition of Coptic Egypt condemned "all sorts of contempt or disdain against any religion, as well as to the sowing of sedition between people who embrace different religions".
The MYU said it would hold a vigil outside the US embassy in Cairo "to protest against the film that insults Islam and the Prophet Mohammed".
In the US, the movie is being promoted by anti-Islamic firebrands who are part of a "network of professional Islamophobes", in the words of Mark Potok, of the Southern Poverty Law Centre.
One of them, Terry Jones, a Florida pastor whose threats to burn copies of the Quran caused rioting in Afghanistan, showed the trailer at his centre in Gainesville on Tuesday.
He called the film "an American production, not designed to attack Muslims but to show the destructive ideology of Islam", and said it "further reveals in a satirical fashion the life of Muhammed".
Before the screening in Florida, the film had been promoted by Morris Sadek, an Egyptian Christian lawyer who lives in the US.
Mr Sadek is the president of the National American Coptic Assembly, whose website bears a logo with the head of a sphinx and the inscription: "I am an Egyptian. Do Not Call Me An Arab."
According to publications on the website, Mr Sadek believes Copts in Egypt suffer systematic oppression from successive Egyptian governments in cahoots with the Muslim Brotherhood, and that Islam is an intolerant religion.
He did not respond to a request for comment.
Tuesday's protests in Cairo were organised after Mr Sadek reportedly sent a link for an online version of the movie to hundreds of Egyptian journalists last week, and posted the trailer to the movie on Facebook on September 5.