Blog hoax: Gay Girl in Damascus is US-born married man (40)
The hoaxer behind a fake blog that claimed to be written by a lesbian Syrian-American living in Damascus, and which caught worldwide attention, has defended the stunt.
A writer giving his name as Tom MacMaster, and apparently a US student studying at Edinburgh University, admitted the narrative was fictional but insisted it "created an important voice for issues I feel strongly about."
He said he never expected so much attention.
Last week a blog post at the same site, "A Gay Girl in Damascus," supposedly written by the woman's cousin, said she had been detained in Damascus after weeks on the run.
The story unravelled quickly after a woman in Britain said the photos on the Facebook account of the blogger known as Amina Arraf were actually of her.
The author of the latest blog post titled it "Apology to readers" but wrote "I do not believe that I have harmed anyone.
"I only hope that people pay as much attention to the people of the Middle East and their struggles in this year of revolutions," MacMaster wrote. "The events there are being shaped by the people living them on a daily basis. I have only tried to illuminate them for a western audience."
He pretended to be Amina Arraf, who was said to have been born in Virginia in October 1975, with Northern Irish roots and ancestors who fought in the American war of Independence.
She attracted fans around the world with a post in April titled 'My Father, The Hero', in which she recounted in gripping detail how her father had saved her from Syrian security forces.
"She is my daughter," she recalled him saying after being asked if he knew about her sexuality. "She is who she is and if you want her, you must take me as well."
The piece led major media outlets to publish what they thought were interviews with Miss Arraf – who also had a six-month online relationship with a woman in Canada – conducted over email.
However, doubts about her story were raised last week by Andy Carvin, an executive from National Public Radio in the US, after Miss Arraf was reported by her "cousin" to have been kidnapped.
Mr Carvin, who has emerged as an expert on the Arab Spring uprisings, wrote: "I began to ask around on Twitter if anyone had met her in person, and I couldn't find anyone who had".
A photograph given to newspapers for publication by Miss Arraf then turned out to be of a young woman from London.
Over the weekend it emerged an address given by Miss Arraf in an online discussion group was owned by Mr MacMaster, originally from Georgia, who is working for a master's degree at Edinburgh.
Computers used to send emails from Amina were traced to the university, and it was discovered that a photo on the blog was previously published online by Mr MacMaster's wife, Britta Froelicher.
Last night, in a post titled 'Apology to readers', Mr MacMaster – whose thesis is on seventh-century Constantinople – confessed to being the blog's author.
"I never expected this level of attention," he said. "While the narrative vo?ce may have been fictional, the facts on this blog are true and not misleading as to the situation on the ground".
Mr Carvin wrote on Twitter that he was "trying to calculate the number of people Tom hurt – by pretending he was Amina and by taking attention away from Syrians."
(Additional reporting by PA)