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Egypt issues arrest warrants for Terry Jones, Coptic Christians over anti-Islam video

Egyptian authorities on Tuesday ordered the arrest of seven Egyptian Coptic Christians and a U.S. pastor for alleged involvement in the production of an anti-Islam video tied to protests across the Middle East and North Africa, the BBC reported.

Akhtar Soomro / Reuters

Protests ignited by a controversial film that ridicules Islam's Prophet Muhammad spread throughout Muslim world.

The seven Egyptians -- one woman and seven men -- and Florida Pastor Terry Jones will be tried by a criminal court on charges of "insulting the Islamic religion, insulting the prophet and inciting sectarian strife," in the "Innocence of Muslims" film made in California, the BBC reported, citing Egypt's public prosecutor.

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An ex-con named Nakoula Bessaly Nakoula was escorted from his Cerritos, Calif., home to answer questions about his role in a controversial anti-Islam film. NBC's Mike Taibbi reports.

The seven Copts to be tried include Elia Basseley, who the prosecutor said is also known as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. The 55-year-old, widely linked to the film, has been interviewed by U.S. federal officers probing possible probation violations. Also named was U.S.-based Morris Sadek, who has said he promoted the film that provoked outrage in the Muslim world.

Jones, who angered Muslims in 2010 by threatening to burn the Quran, also is accused for supporting the film.

The connection of the other five Copts accused in the case, who were not identified, to the film was unclear. 

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The public prosecutor said in a statement that convictions could be punishable by death and called for the seven Copts and Jones to be handed over to Egypt. The statement did not say in which the countries the Copts were.

A judicial source said two Egyptian lawyers had raised the suit with the public prosecutor, who referred the case to a criminal court on Tuesday. The court will set a date for the trial, the source added.

Anger at the film has stretched across the Middle East, Asia and Africa. In several cities, protesters attacked U.S. embassies, blaming America for the video. In Egypt, protesters clambered over the embassy wall in Cairo and tore down the U.S. flag, and clashed with police in streets nearby for four days.

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For many Muslims, any depiction of the Prophet Muhammad is blasphemy, let alone one deemed insulting. The crude film portrayed the Prophet as a womanizer, thug and child molester. Clips circulated on the Internet for weeks.

At the consulate where four Americans died security consisted of one U.S. regional security officer and a local militia. Ambassador Chris Stevens often had little personal security detail. NBC's Lisa Myers reports.

The U.S. government has called the film disgusting and reprehensible, but said it could not act against it as that would violate freedom of expression. Egypt has urged Washington to take legal steps against those insulting religion.

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Sadek, who heads a group called the National American Coptic Assembly, told Reuters last week that he promoted the film to highlight discrimination toward Copts in Egypt, a reference to some opening scenes of the film about that issue.

Speaking from the United States, he also said he was sorry about the death of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Libya in an assault on the Benghazi consulate, but added anyone who objected to the film should do so peacefully.

The seven Copts and Jones will also be tried over accusations they sought to divide Egypt, where about 10 percent of the 83 million population is Christian.

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Christians in the country have long complained about discrimination in the workplace and laws such as those that make it harder to build a church than a mosque. Egypt's new Islamist president, Mohamed Mursi, has pledged to treat all Egyptians fairly.

Egypt's Coptic Orthodox church condemned insults to Islam and condemned some Copts abroad who they say financed the film.

Highlighting how Egypt's judiciary deals with such cases, a Copt in the Sohag region south of Cairo was jailed for six years on Tuesday, three of them for insulting the prophet and Islam, the state news agency reported.

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Bishoi Kameel, an English teacher, was convicted for publishing pictures deemed offensive to the prophet on Facebook. He was also convicted and sentenced for insulting the president and another citizen.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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