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'Innocence of Muslims': Cleric known as Islam's 'enemy' defends film

September 16, 2012 | 11:09 am

Innocence of Muslims
A controversial Coptic cleric -- sometimes called Islam's Public Enemy No. 1 -- is defending the "Innocence of Muslims" film that has enraged the Arab world and prompted violent rioting.

The preacher, Zakaria Botros Henein, owns a home in Huntington Beach, and his teachings influenced the Southern California men behind the anti-Islamic movie, according to Times reports. He is known around the globe for insults to the prophet Muhammad that are strikingly similar to those in the film.

Henein has not been linked to "Innocence of Muslims," but the three disparate figures who have emerged as key forces behind the movie are all devotees of his views, including the belief that Muhammad was a necrophile, a homosexual and a pedophile.

TIMELINE: 'Innocence of Muslims' unrest

Botros, 77, could not be reached for comment, but he defended the movie during his satellite TV show on Alfady TV, which was first shown on Friday and rebroadcast Saturday night.

A bearded man who wears a large cross and a black robe, Botros dissected multiple scenes from the movie trailer -- defending each negative depiction of Muhammad and Muslims by pointing to the Koran and other Islamic teachings.

"We are stating the truth and showing the path of redemption," Botros said.

He criticized Muslims who have responded to the film with violence, noting that it will only reinforce a negative world view.

"They're proving that Islam is terrorism to the whole world," Botros said. "This is what Islam is like: Islam of killing, Islam of terrorism, Islam of setting things on fire. ... Isn't America the one who set you free from [Libyan strongman Moammar] Kadafi?"

He added: "I wish you would be civil and be reasonable and respond to what is said against Islam with calm reason."

For decades, the priest has been among the most galvanizing and high-profile figures in the Muslim world. Jailed several times in his native Egypt for trying to convert Muslims to Christianity, he was exiled by Hosni Mubarak's  government in the early 1990s in exchange for an early release. He fled to Australia and ran a parish there for more than a decade, before departing in the midst of a dispute with the Coptic pope over his authoritarian style.

In Australia, he began an online ministry that moved to cable television and reached a worldwide audience that grew into the millions. 

His anti-Muslim teachings earned him the ire of the governments of Egypt, Iran and Saudia Arabia; Al Qaeda allegedly declared a fatwa calling for his death and offering $60 million to his killer.

Early in the last decade, he relocated to Orange County, where he bought real estate. He kept his whereabouts quiet, but his ministry continued. Hundreds of episodes of his 90-minute show were transmitted on the Coptic satellite station Al Hayat before the show was canceled in 2010. A year later, he launched his own network, Westminster-based Alfady, which carries his programs.

Mainstream Coptic leaders have denounced the film.


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-- Harriet Ryan, Ken Bensinger, Jessica Garrison and Kimi Yoshino

Photo: A scene from the 14-minute video trailer for the film "Innocence of Muslims," which has sparked violence in the Middle East and North Africa. Credit: YouTube