NOW THAT the inflammatory film "Innocence of Muslims" has led to rioting and death, the story of the man behind the film is becoming more twisted and sickening.
Federal authorities have identified Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a southern California man once convicted of financial crimes, as the key figure behind the anti-Muslim film, a U.S. law-enforcement official said Thursday.
Attorney General Eric Holder said that Justice Department officials had opened a criminal investigation into the deaths of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other diplomats killed during an attack on the American consulate in Benghazi. It was not immediately clear whether authorities were focusing on Nakoula as part of that probe - or whether the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans came during a terrorist attack.
Originally, a Sam Bacile, an Israeli Jew, claimed to have written and directed the film - it would enrage Muslims even more if a Jew were behind the blasphemy - but Bacile turned out to be a false identity and the Associated Press traced "his" cellphone number to a southern California house where Nakoula was found.
Nakoula is a Coptic Christian.
Nakoula told the AP on Wednesday that he managed logistics for the company that produced the film, but denied that he was Bacile or that he had directed the film. Nakoula said that he knew Bacile but federal court papers filed against Nakoula in a 2010 criminal prosecution said that he had used numerous aliases - some similar to Sam Bacile.
Other aliases described in the documents included - no joke - Ahmad Hamdy, Kritbag Difrat and PJ Tobacco.
* An official of the Coptic Orthodox Church in L.A. said in a statement Thursday that the church's adherents had no involvement in the "inflammatory movie about the prophet of Islam."
* American actors and actresses who appeared in "Innocence of Muslims" issued a joint statement Wednesday saying that they were misled about the project and alleged that some of their dialogue was crudely dubbed during post-production.
"The entire cast and crew are extremely upset and feel taken advantage of by the producer," said the statement, obtained by the Los Angeles Times. "We are 100 percent not behind this film and were grossly misled about its intent and purpose. 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."
* One of the actresses, Cindy Lee Garcia, told KERO-TV, in Bakersfield, that the film was originally titled "Desert Warriors" and that the script did not contain offensive references to Islam.
She wants her name cleared.
Uh, until you came forward, Cindy, nobody knew your name.
* About 15 key players from Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan and Iran, and a couple of Coptic Christians from Egypt, worked on the film, Christian activist Steve Klein said.
"Most of them won't tell me their real names because they're terrified," Klein said.
* Meanwhile, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, said that Klein is a former Marine and longtime religious-right activist who has helped train paramilitary militias at a California church. It described Klein as founder of Courageous Christians United, which conducts protests outside abortion clinics, Mormon temples and mosques.
It quoted Klein as saying that he believes that California is riddled with Muslim Brotherhood sleeper cells "who are awaiting the trigger date and will begin randomly killing as many of us as they can."
* Klein told the AP that he vowed to help make the movie but warned the filmmaker, whatever his name is, that "you're going to be the next Theo van Gogh." Van Gogh was a Dutch filmmaker killed by a Muslim extremist in 2004 after making a film that was perceived as insulting to Islam.
"We went into this knowing this was probably going to happen," Klein said.
TATTBITS* Michael Madsen, of "Reservoir Dogs," was released from a California hospital after he was arrested for investigation of drunken driving on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, his attorney Perry Wander said Thursday.
Madsen had complained of an undisclosed medical problem following his arrest Wednesday, Wander said.
* Kirk Douglas has doubled his Los Angeles Skid Row pledge for homeless women to $10 million - surprising even his wife, Anne, for whom the effort is named.
The Douglases made the initial $5 million pledge in July for continued support of the Anne Douglas Center for Women, at the Los Angeles Mission, which opened two decades ago on Valentine's Day.
* "Saturday Night Live" is going crazy in 2012: An actual black man will portray President Obama.
Jay Pharoah - who does a killer Denzel Washington - will take over the plum role from Fred Armisen.
* Police in Maine say that Sally Struthers ("All in the Family") has been charged with drunken driving. Struthers was arrested early Wednesday morning after being pulled over on U.S. Route 1 in the resort town of Ogunquit. She was charged with criminal operating under the influence and posted $160 bail.
She has been performing at the Ogunquit Playhouse in the musical "9 to 5."
* And in New Jersey, liquor regulators said Thursday that they have fined Seaside Heights' Spicy Cantina & Mexican Grill $15,000 for serving a "visibly intoxicated" Deena Cortese just before she wandered out into traffic in June.
As a condition of an agreement, the "Jersey Shore" star is banned from the premises for two years.
Somehow we think she'll find another bar.
- Daily News wire services
contributed to this report.