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California man behind anti-Islam film released to halfway house

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The man behind a film that stoked anti-U.S. protests across the Muslim world has been moved from prison to a halfway house to serve the remaining weeks of his sentence for probation violations stemming from his role in making the video, federal officials said on Tuesday.

The 56-year-old Egyptian-born Coptic Christian, whose real name is Mark Basseley Youssef, previously served time for a 2010 bank fraud conviction and was sent back to prison last year after admitting to breaching the terms of his probation.

"I never thought my movie can cause anyone trouble or anyone can get killed from my movie," he told CNN in a telephone interview aired on Tuesday, his first public comments since his arrest in the wake of unrest stirred by the film.

The crudely made 13-minute video he produced in Southern California, circulated online under several titles, including "The Innocence of Muslims," portrayed the Prophet Mohammad as a fool and sexual deviant.

American cast members later said they were misled into appearing in a film they believed was supposed to be an adventure drama called "Desert Warrior."

The film touched off a torrent of anti-American demonstrations in Arab and Muslim countries, where many consider any depiction of the prophet as blasphemous.

The start of the unrest on September 11, 2012, coincided with an attack on U.S. diplomatic posts in the Libyan city of Benghazi that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens.

But links between the Benghazi assault and "The Innocence of Muslims" have since been debunked.

Susan Rice, then-U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, initially said the Benghazi attack grew from a spontaneous protest over the film. But the Obama administration later acknowledged that militants tied to al Qaeda had planned and carried out the attack and that there was no demonstration in Benghazi at the time.

Youssef was transferred from a federal detention center during the past few weeks to an undisclosed halfway house as part of preparation for his release, Federal Bureau of Prisons spokesman Ed Ross said.

He is due to be freed on September 26 but will remain under the supervision of probation officials for the next four years, Ross said.

(Reporting and writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Xavier Briand)

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