The makers of an anti-Islamic movie that set off violent anti-US protests in the Arab world were influenced by a southern California-based Coptic preacher, who made a business out of insults to the Prophet Mohammed, The Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.
The newspaper said this preacher named Zakaria Botros Henein teaches that Mohammed was a necrophile, a homosexual and a pedophile.
He has not been directly linked to the film Innocence of Muslims, but the three men behind the movie were all supporters of his views, the report said.
Steve Klein, a Christian who worked on the script, said Botros was "a close friend" and compared him favorably to US civil rights leader Martin Luther King, the paper noted.
Joseph Nassralla, the head of a Christian charity in Duarte where part of the movie was shot, praised Botros's website, FatherZakaria.net.
Meanwhile, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, who organized the production, spoke openly of his devotion to the cleric while in federal prison, The Times pointed out.
Botros's son, Benyamin, said his father was unavailable, according to the report.
"I cannot tell you where he is because his life is in danger," The Times quoted the son as saying.
However Botros defended the movie on the Arabic satellite TV station Alfady that he runs in California - and criticized the violent reaction to the film, the paper said.
According to the report, Botros was jailed several times in his native Egypt for trying to convert Muslims to Christianity and eventually was exiled.
In Australia, he began an online ministry that insisted that Islam was a misguided religion, the paper said.
As a result, Al-Qaeda allegedly issued a fatwa, or religious edict, calling for his death and offering $60 million to his killer, The Times said.
He relocated to Huntington Beach in southern California in the early 2000s and launched the Alfady network, the paper noted.
"God let me to leave Egypt in order to speak freely and openly, explaining the Islam, saving Muslims from the bondage of the Islam," he said in one of his online sermons. "Islam is a religion? I say no. Islam is an ideology. Islam is a state before it is a religion."
"Innocence of Muslims" was produced by a US religious group called Media for Christ and reportedly directed by a pornographer.
Nakoula, a US-based Egyptian Coptic Christian, has previously admitted uploading the trailer on the internet.
In 2010 he was convicted of defrauding US banks by opening false accounts and passing bad checks, court documents show, and he served one year before being released on probation.
Early on Saturday US federal authorities questioned Nakoula, the alleged brains behind the film that has inflamed much of the Muslim world by lampooning the Prophet Mohammed, but quickly released him.
Nakoula was "given a ride" from his southern California home to the interview shortly after midnight, with investigators seeking to establish if he broke the terms of his probation over a bank fraud conspiracy, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department spokesman Don Walker told AFP.
A man later emerged from the police station wearing a coat, hat, scarf and glasses, a local NBC News affiliate reported.
The film was promoted by a network of right-wing Coptic and Evangelical Christians with a radical anti-Muslim agenda, such as Terry Jones, a Florida pastor notorious for publicly burning a Koran.
Klein, a Vietnam war veteran and founder of Courageous Christians United, which is notorious for protests outside mosques and Mormon temples, was acting as "consultant."
"He is not only a gifted preacher - he is bold, a very brave man, Klein wrote about Botros in his book "Is Islam Compatible With the Constitution?"
"Today, Father Zakaria and I are close friends," he continued. "He has taught me much - including a sense of bravery as rare as those who earn Medals of Honor."