Neighbors describe the self-described "number one enemy of Islam" Zakaria Botros as secretive and say they haven’t seen the family since a video denigrating the Prophet Muhammad produced in Southern California sparked violent protests in the Middle East and North Africa. Two SoCal men linked to the video – believed filmmaker Nakoula Besseley Nakoula and self-described film consultant Steve Klein – are said to be followers of the cleric. Both men are in hiding. Vikki Vargas reports from Huntington Beach for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Sept. 17, 2012.
An Orange County priest who's been described as "Islam's public enemy No. 1" has reportedly gone into hiding in the wake of explosive reaction abroad to an anti-Muslim film linked to a Southern California filmmaker.
Neighbors say they haven't seen Coptic Christian priest Zakaria Botros in recent days, and no one answered the door Monday at his Huntington Beach home, which is protected by six video surveillance cameras.
"I think they’re gone," neighbor Bill Schroeder said.
Botros, known as Father Zakaria, has been an outspoken critic of Islam for years, and the Southern California makers of the inflammatory film that has sparked protests abroad have been linked to him.
According to his website, the Egyptian-born priest's goal is to convert Muslims to Christianity – a project that makes him a controversial figure.
In a recent television broadcast Botros,77, said, "Islam is not the answer. Jihad is not the way. Jesus is the way. Jesus is the truth."
Al Qaeda has reportedly put a bounty on Zakaria's head.
The Christian magazine "World" gave Botros an award in 2008 for his work. He was quoted back then as saying, "I love...Muslims, I hate Islam."
He was also a mentor to three people linked to the short, low-budget Internet film "The Innocence of Muslims," which has incited violence in the Middle East and North Africa.
Zakaria's teachings are said to be similar to anti-Muslim and anti-Muhammed insults made in the film.
Steve Klein, who said he was a consultant on the film made at a studio in Duarte, has called Botros a "close friend."
Nakoula Basseley Nakoula of Cerritos, another Egyptian Coptic Christian who has also been in hiding since controversy arose over film he was involved in, has also expressed support for Botros.
A person who said they were a relative of Botros contacted NBC4 and said the priest was in hiding and his life had been threatened.