Mystery deepens surrounding identity, alleged kidnapping of Syrian blogger

via a Facebook support page

via a Facebook support page

Update, June 12, 2011: Hoax revealed. More here.

Image via a Facebook support page

The mystery surrounding the kidnapping of a lesbian blogger in Syria deepens as media outlets report they are unable to verify the woman’s identify or the facts surrounding her disappearance, fueling speculation of an elaborate internet hoax.

Earlier this week, bloggers (including LGBTQ Nation) and the mainstream media reported that Amina Araf, an American-Syrian lesbian and author of the blog “A Gay Girl in Damascus,” was reportedly been kidnapped by armed men in Damascus.

But three days after word was posted about Araf’s alleged kidnapping, American officials say they have no record of an American by that name and no one appears to have ever seen or spoken to Araf directly, and on Wednesday, a Croatian woman living in London said photographs circulating on the Internet were of her, stolen from her Facebook page.

“That is absolutely my picture taken in the last year in Paris,” Jelena Lecic told the BBC Wednesday night.

More via The New York Times:

Andy Carvin, an NPR journalist and expert at debunking Internet rumors, pointed out that none of the reports of the arrest of Amina Abdallah Arraf appeared to have been written by journalists who had previously met or interviewed her. A few hours after Mr. Carvin asked his network of followers on Twitter, “has anyone met Amina (Gay Girl In Damascus) in person?” he observed: “It’s just odd that I can’t find anyone who has actually met her in person.”

Although it remains possible that the blog’s author was indeed detained, and has been writing a factual, not fictional, account of recent events in Syria, readers should be aware that the one person who has identified herself — to The Times, the BBC and Al Jazeera — as a personal friend of the blogger, Sandra Bagaria, has now clarified that she has never actually met the author of the Gay Girl in Damascus blog.

Ms. Bagaria told [The New York Times] that she had also never conversed with Ms. Arraf face to face via Skype, but had conducted an online relationship with her since January entirely through Internet communications in writing, including more than 500 e-mails.

NPR also pointed readers to a previous blog Araf had allegedly written several years ago. The blog explicitly stated it was her intention to post both real stories and fiction on her blog — and not tell readers which was which.

Araf had claimed to have been born in Virginia to an American woman and Syrian father, but the State Department has not been able to verify.

Word of Araf’s alleged kidnapping was first reported Monday on her blog by someone identifying herself as Rania O. Ismail — Araf’s cousin.

As suspicion has spread worldwide over the past three days, the blog has been quiet and “Ismail” has not posted any further updates of Araf’s abduction, or made any attempts to clarify the mystery.

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