Muslims find it offensive to depict Muhammad in any fashion, much less in an insulting way. The 2005 publication of 12 caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper triggered riots in many Muslim countries.
A 14-minute trailer of the movie that sparked the protests, posted on the website YouTube in an original English version and another dubbed into Egyptian Arabic, depicts Muhammad as a fraud, a womanizer and a madman in an overtly ridiculing way, showing him having sex and calling for massacres.
The website's guidelines call for removing videos that include a threat of violence, but not those that only express opinions. YouTube's practice is not to comment on specific videos.
Sam Bacile, a 56-year-old California real estate developer who identifies himself as an Israeli Jew and who said he produced, directed and wrote the two-hour film, "Innocence of Muslims," said he had not anticipated such a furious reaction.
Speaking by phone from an undisclosed location, Bacile, who went into hiding Tuesday, remained defiant, saying Islam is a cancer and that he intended his film to be a provocative political statement condemning the religion.
Bacile said he believes the movie will help his native land by exposing Islam's flaws to the world. "Islam is a cancer, period," he repeatedly said in a solemn, accented tone.
Israel, however, sought to distance itself from Bacile.
"It's obvious we'll have to be vigilant. Anything he did or said has nothing to do whatsoever with Israel. He may claim what he wants. This was not done with or for or through Israel." Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said on Wednesday.
Michael reported from Cairo. Associated Press writers Matthew Lee in Washington and Joseph Federman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.
The three Libyan officials who confirmed the deaths were deputy interior minister for eastern Libya Wanis al-Sharaf; Benghazi security chief Abdel-Basit Haroun; and Benghazi city council and security official Ahmed Bousinia.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.