When a post appeared on blogger Amina Arraf's blog claiming she'd been kidnapped by armed gunmen, media around the world quickly picked up the dramatic story. But now questions are being raised about Arraf's identity. Does she even exist?
On Tuesday, someone claiming to be Arraf's cousin posted to her blog, A Gay Girl in Damascus, that she had been plucked off the street by three armed men and bundled into a car. Since February, she'd been blogging about being an out lesbian in Syria and attracted some internet stardom for her brave, honest posts.
But now a bunch of strange developments make Arraf's case seem at least partially a hoax:
- A widely-distributed photo of Arraf turned out to be of a London woman named Jelena Lecic. Arraf herself sent the Guardian a photo of Lecic when she arranged to meet for an interview. pretending it was her. (Which she later cancelled.) She also apparently had pictures of Lecic on her personal Facebook page.
- NPR reporter Andy Carvin has talked to a number of people who have come in contact with Arraf, and found that nobody has ever spoken with her in person or even over the phone—including her Canadian girlfriend, with whom she had an email-based relationship.
- In fact every time someone has gotten close to speaking or meeting Arraf something has gone wrong. A Syrian-based journalist working for the Guardian arranged to meet Arraf, but Arraf claimed she'd been tailed so had to skip the meeting. Then they tried to talk by Skype, but Arraf said she coulnd't because Skype had been blocked, although it had only been blocked from download.
- Arraf has a history of mixing fact with fiction: In 2007, Arraf wrote sort of a serialized novel on a different blog. She explained ""This blog will have what may sometimes seem likely deeply personal accounts. And sometimes they will be. But there will also be fiction. And I will not tell you which is which."
It's completely possible that Arraf had to engage in this evasion and deception to protect herself as a gay woman in Syria. But it would also be far from the first time a blogger's traded facts for a compelling story.