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Mark Basseley Youssef, whose video Innocence of Muslims was blamed for sparking riots that ended in the death of an ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi, was released Thursday from a halfway house in California, his attorney confirmed on Friday.
Youssef was serving a one-year sentence for violating terms of his release put in place for a fraud conviction in 2010. He served the early portion of his sentence in a correctional facility in Texas but was moved in May to a halfway house.
Youssef, who authorities say also operated under the aliases Nakoula Basseley Nakoula and Sam Bacile, posted his 14-minute anti-Muslim video on YouTube in early July 2012 and it went largely unnoticed. A two-minute clip aired on Egyptian television on Sep. 9, and an attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya occurred two days later.
After the attack, President Barack Obama condemned the video and Susan Rice, at the time the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, went on multiple TV shows to explain that the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi were the result of rioters who were upset at Youssef’s YouTube video.
The story of the killings in Benghazi will be told in an HBO movie to be executive produced by Jerry Weintraub based on the book, Under Fire: The Untold Story of the Attack in Benghazi by Fred Burton and Samuel Katz. Also, Thunder Road is developing a similar movie based on the book Embassy House by Sgt. Morgan Jones and Damien Lewis.
Innocence of Muslims is an amateurish video that was presumed to be a trailer for a larger movie. The video portrays the Muslim prophet Muhammad as a womanizer and child abuser, and actors have accused Youssef of replacing lines they spoke while filming with anti-Muslim language, without their permission or knowledge. The Obama administration and others asked YouTube to pull the video down, though it remains with a “viewer discretion” notice attached.
Critics of the Obama administration were immediately skeptical of the narrative promoted by Rice that four Americans – Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens, Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith and Navy SEALS Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods – were killed in a spontaneous uprising caused by a YouTube video, especially given the attack in Benghazi occurred on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Libyan President Mohammed Magariaf has said the attack was pre-planned by a group connected with al-Qaeda.
Months after the attack, officials have been backtracking from their assertion that Youssef’s video was at fault, and liberal media outlets have been making the case that the Obama administration never actually blamed the Benghazi attacks — not entirely, at least — on the video to begin with.
During a hearing on Capital Hill in January, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson asked then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton why the State Department had initially blamed Youssef’s video for the attack on Benghazi. Clinton famously answered: “Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk last night who decided to kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator?”
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