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Seven Coptic Egyptians living abroad were sentenced to death Wednesday by a court in Cairo for their connection to an inflammatory anti-Islam film, the prosecutor’s office said. The suspects are accused of being involved with the production of the film in California, said Adel Al Saeed, official spokesman for the prosecutor’s office. Since the Egyptian citizens were tried in absentia, the sentence would be applied only if they returned to Egypt. Protests against the “Innocence of Muslims” film erupted in September in many Muslim countries, including Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Morocco, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Israel and the Palestinian territories.
The amateurish film portrays the Prophet Mohammed as a womanizer, buffoon, ruthless killer and child molester. Islam categorically forbids any depictions of Mohammed, and blasphemy is an incendiary taboo in the Muslim world. Backed by hardcore anti-Islam groups in the United States, the film sparked outrage after an Arabic translation of the film’s trailer was released online a few weeks before the anniversary of September 11. In Cairo, some protesters scaled the wall of the U.S. Embassy and tore down its American flag, replacing it with a black flag adorned with an emblem used by Islamic radicals. Police and army personnel had to be deployed to prevent demonstrators from advancing on the compound.
The film was also initially implicated in a violent demonstration in Libya that left the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans dead on September 11. Earlier this month, the Egyptian-American man behind the film was sentenced in California to one year in federal prison after admitting to violating the terms of his probation from a 2010 bank fraud case. The amateur filmmaker, Mark Basseley Youssef, also was ordered to serve four years of supervised release after his prison term. He was identified in initial news accounts in September as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the name used in the bank fraud case.
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