Dyker Heights church gets pulled into Muhammad video controversy

The cops and the Copts: The 68th Precinct has been guarding the Coptic Orthodox Church of Saint George on 67th Street against potential backlash from the Muslim community over “The Innocence of Muslims” video.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Police are keeping an around-the-clock post outside the Coptic Orthodox Church of Saint George in Dyker Heights amid fears that the widespread violence in the Middle East triggered by a controversial anti-Muslim video will erupt in Brooklyn.

For the past week, a cop from the 68th Precinct has been positioned outside the Egyptian Christian church at the corner of 67th Street and 11th Avenue — the only Egyptian Christian house of worship in the borough.

Cops from the 68th Precinct say they authorized the detail because Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the California man who created the inflammatory video that depicted the prophet Muhammad as a sex-crazed killer is an Egyptian Christian.

Police believe the church, which sits just blocks away from one of the biggest Arab-American communities in the city, could be a target for anyone looking to lash out at Nakoula and his video, which has sparked riots in Egypt, Libya, and Pakistan.

“Anybody might want to break a window or spray paint something,” an NYPD source told Brooklyn Daily. “We just want to provide a show of force and let the community know that we’re available for anything that could occur.”

Church leaders say they didn’t ask for the added protection — and don’t believe they are in any danger.

“They are over there and we are over here, and there is no problem,” said Father Mina Yanni, who was born in Egypt and has served at the Church of Saint George since 1972.

“The Innocence of Muslims,” a YouTube video which depicts Muslims as violent fanatics and the prophet Muhammad as a fraud, pervert, and homosexual instigated violent demonstrations and may have led to the death of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, although U.S. forces are now attributing their death to a carefully choreographed terrorist attack that took place during riots sparked by the film.

Federal authorities took Nakoula, who had been convicted of fraud 2010, into custody on Sept. 15 for probation violations related to the video, which was put on YouTube and broadcast on Middle Eastern television stations.

Borough Arab-Americans have denounced the riots in the Middle East, yet still believe that Nakoula should be punished for sparking the unrest.

“These acts must be condemned,” Linda Sarsour, director of the Arab American Association of New York tweeted last week. “But what about the filmmaker and Terry Jones? Give them free passes?”

Yet other Arab-American leaders don’t believe that the Coptic Orthodox Church of Saint George should be concerned about any blowback.

“They are our brothers and sisters and family members,” said Habib Joudeh, founder of the Arab-American Association of New York. “We know that if somebody came out and did something wrong, that does not mean he speaks for all of them.”

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at (718) 260–4507 or e-mail him at wbredderman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/WillBredderman

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