Painful doubts about Amina

This morning I woke up to reports that Amina Abdalla, aka Amina Abdallah Arraf al Omari, who blogs on Gay Girl in Damascus had been detained in Syria. Her cousin posted to give the details, and people were twittering and blogging about the situation, there was a Facebook page and a #freeamina hashtag and people talking about what to do as activists to pressure for her release. At work in the morning, I let people at BlogHer know, since we featured her post some months ago, My Father, the Hero. My coworkers were very concerned, Heather Clisby posted about Amina’s situation, and our entire community of women bloggers geared up to support her. I wrote to one of my senators and signed some online petitions in her support, and sent out messages to everyone I know to try to help her.

Over the course of the day as I tracked the stories about Amina I noticed that all the articles sourced her blog, and then her other blog from 2007. I started looking for traces of her elsewhere. She has a Facebook page, but not a lot of other presence. It looked to me like her 2007 blog was a few chapters of experimentation with a memoir or a novel. Then she abandoned that and brought it back in mid-February on a new site. Not uncommon. But I started having doubts based on some of her patterns of talking about personas and fiction. Back when people were talking about My Father, the Hero, I heard people doubting Amina’s existence simply based on her being an out lesbian in Damascus. I argued against that doubt and would not doubt someone based on their identity. But now began to feel differently.

As the afternoon wore on I felt that (even sluggish as it is) mainstream media should by now have found people who were personal friends, family, fellow students or co-workers of Amina from her time in the U.S. if not contacts in Syria. Again.. a day went by and all the sources and quotes were from two blogs by the same person, about that person. Interviews surfaced but they were all interviews by email. Then as I questioned things on my blogs and on twitter, in some phone calls to activists and journalists, I saw that Amina’s friend Sandra Bagaria in Montreal was twittering about her and was beginning to give interviews. She was reported as close friend, girlfriend, and partner in different sources. Sandra Bagaria, unlike Amina, had a clear presence on the web. That put my fears partly to rest. But I wondered a bit about Bagaria’s aliases: her twitter description read: “aka Marjane, aka Lisbeth and a Syrian lover.” Really… Hmm.

I would hate to have my existence doubted and am finding it painful to continue doubting Amina’s. If she is real, I am very sorry and will apologize and continue to work for her release and support.

But it now turns out that Bagaria has never met Amina in person. They had an online relationship. As I see it, this could indicate various possibilities:

- Amina is as she appears to be, a talented writer living in Syria; perhaps with a different name and with the names of her family members obscured.

- Amina is someone else entirely in Syria.

- Amina is someone else; anything goes. Amina could be Odin Soli for all I know. In fact, wouldn’t it fit all too neatly?

- Amina is Sandra Bagaria.

In 2007 I gave a talk at SXSWi on Fictional Blogging. I talked about astroturfing, sockpuppets, deep cover established online over time, and hoax bloggers who turned out to be not what they seemed. My own blogging community in around 2003 included a charismatic blogger named Plain Layne. Her life as a bisexual young woman was full of drama; she was goodhearted, generous, incredibly engaging, a fabulous writer, and would sometimes get herself into situations that would just make you stay awake at night worrying about her life, her cousin who had a baby, her upcoming dates, who she was going to sleep with… it was quite incredible. I’m sure many bloggers and blog readers have gone through this cycle of becoming fascinated with another person’s life through their textual output. Plain Layne had fans. When she wrote about being a rape survivor, many of us emailed and IM-ed her to offer long nights of support, or told our painful stories of trauma or abuse so she’d know she wasn’t alone.

Well… to make a long story short Plain Layne turned out to be this middle aged guy named Odin Soli who had also won blog awards years before as Acanit, a young lesbian Muslim girl with a Jewish girlfriend. Despite watching many of my close (in person and online) friends feel that their basic trust in humanity was damaged from this hoax, I invited Odin to come speak with me at SXSWi about blogging under a persona and how his “experimental fiction” had gone too far. We had a fantastic public discussion that stretched (at the audience’s request) an hour past our allotted panel time. I liked Odin a lot. He was fun to be around, as well as being a good writer and superb online performer of identity. His Layne stories evolved later into a novel, The Mexican Year… which by the way were about a Muslim woman. If you read all three of these writing projects, you may see some stylistic and thematic similarities with Amina. I believed in Amina, up till the spark of doubt I began feeling this afternoon. But… I believed hard in Layne too.

odin soli

One of the high points of the discussion at SXSWi was talking with Ethan Zuckerman about political and government uses of “fictional” blogging. It would certainly be easy to imagine disinformation campaigns — say, a refugee camp blogger who reported on conditions in some way that was false and aimed at discrediting a political movement or government either because they were believed, or because they were revealed as fakes. What we thought was that if we could imagine it, someone else had probably already thought of it and was doing it.

In this case, how could I tell from this distance? I hope you can see why my spidey sense went off for Amina. I don’t disbelieve in her becuase she’s a great writer with a sense of drama and rhetoric, or because of her sexual orientation or her activism. For example, I don’t for a second doubt the existence of Riverbend, who blogged so eloquently and for so long from Baghdad and then fled to Syria with her family. But I start to really, really, want some trustable and deep sources for Amina. How can an activist whose life is in danger provide that credibility? It’s a very hard question. There have been good experiments done of inventing credible people — inserting them into conferences by having them tweet a lot and write about what they’re doing, then have them friend everyone they “met” at the conference — 9 times out of 10 I would friend that person back even if I couldn’t remember meeting them. Then I’d “know” them on Facebook and Twitter and in the blog world, and they’d be friends with lots of my real life friends. I would not at all be surprised if some of my social media contacts were complicated fictional creations — either literary experiments, or politically motivated cyber-infiltrators.

Like I said, not only was I imagining how to do this well back in 2005 or so, other much more powerful — or much more creative and weird — people than me were likely imagining it — and doing it. We saw with the HBGary case that there is software to manage a stack of complicated online personas and their social media presences and keep their backgrounds and relationships straight. Of course. Right?

At one point in 2008, I busted an entire fake astroturf political community, PumaPAC. That was fun.

In this situation, if I were Sandra Bagaria, and if I weren’t Sandra/Amina, I’d be taking my computer to a friendly hackerspace and get an expert vouched for by the community there to look at my email headers and whatever other records of contact I had with Amina. From that it should be possible to tell something of her location. I would believe a fair bit of sophistication in hiding that location and identity is realistic of course. But it might not hold up to scrutiny.

Andy Carvin has been twittering all afternoon trying to find someone who has met Amina in person and has not succeeded.

If this is a hoax, I feel for everyone involved whose emotions were brought to a pitch and who stepped up to try and support Amina Araf. It also must be really infuriating for the LGBT people actually in Syria and for many other activists and bloggers who have been detained for their online writing.

If I’m wrong then I am being very rude to Amina and I am terribly sorry for that. But, I feel that it’s incredibly important to maintain some skepticism when sources are so thin.

Please change my mind with evidence and good sources. On the other hand, I’d like it if Amina didn’t exist, because then she wouldn’t be in jail and in danger, though other people are who need our support.

Update: Andy Carvin just posted with his thoughts. He is leaning towards believing that Amina is real, but doesn’t know a lot of people in person and lives her social life online. That is plausible, and I’m sure we’ll find out more over the next couple of days. Someone must have known her in Atlanta, for example… Meanwhile, I hope she is safe.

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420 Responses to Painful doubts about Amina

  1. minnie says:

    this is very interesting. Her writing does seem awfully familiar in a plain layne way – detailed, passionate and charismatic. the main thing that jumps out at me is the lack of actual sources for the info reported. every single blog post or news article only references Amina’s own posts or the one on her blog by her cousin.

  2. The Goldfish says:

    I found this a fascinating post – I had to tweet the petition and your post next to one another in case. So far, in a social life lead almost entirely on-line since my teens, I have not come across anything so complex as the stories you tell, but I have suspected it more than once, simply because I can see how it could be done.

    Like you, I would like Amina not to exist. But I’m optimistic that the kind of people who will campaign for her release would give up on the cause of imprisoned writers and LGBT people if it turned out that this one is fictional.

  3. EDB says:

    https://www.facebook.com/FreeAminaArraf#!/Jelena74

    A friend of this woman says the photos circulating of Amina and on Amina’s facebook profile are of her. She lives in London and saw the photos in the Guardian yesterday and has contacted lawyers.

  4. Sophie Younger says:

    Having read Amina’s blog for the past month, I too wondered at one point yesterday afternoon, whether what you discuss here could possibly be the case. My own feelings were aroused when I heard her ‘partner’ Sandra speak on Canadian CBC. I thought that she spoke powerfully but incredibly (in the literal sense of the word) dispassionately. I thought that just MAYBE she is the real Amina. But then, like you, I thought that just in case this Amina really DOES exist, we MUST continue to do anything at all that may help her. And that if, in the end, she doesn’t exist in this form, there are still thousands of metaphorical Aminas out there, in all of the Middle East who do exist and whose lives are in danger because of their beliefs and their courage. And, as the poster above said, I would like to believe, too, that the kind of people who would campaign for Amina’s release, would NOT give up on their work for human rights, even if this particular case turned out to be fictional.

  5. EDB says:

    She posted this, underneath a picture of Amina on the Free Amina Facebook wall and it was removed within minutes:
    https://www.facebook.com/FreeAminaArraf

    Giacomo [[...]]
    share the word freedom
    12 minutes ago

    *

    Sarah [ --- ] his picture is my friend and she lives here in london uk. My thoughts to the real Amina and her family, but this picture must come down and replaced with the real Amina. Thanks
    9 minutes ago · 1 personLoading…
    o
    Giacomo [[...]] Why do the media use this photo? Have a photo of Amina true?
    6 minutes ago
    o
    Sarah [---] I have no idea why they are using her photo and she has no idea either.. she has conacted lawayers regarding this as she only discovered this yesterday.. the guardian newspaper said they took the picture off a facebook group.. i think this is how the picture is now circulating around.. i can assure u this is not Amina this picture is Jelena Lecic.
    4 minutes ago

    [[edited to remove full name at the person's request -- Liz]]

  6. suspicious says:

    I think Rania Ismail (the cousin) and Amina Arraf are the same person.

    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000718057081#!/profile.php?id=100000718057081&sk=wall

  7. Ali says:

    I believe this is the person who they used her photo? jewish http://www.facebook.com/Jelena74

  8. Ali says:

    remove the jewish thing, it was from another thing lol

    • kieo says:

      Actually it is true. Amina the Georgian, American, Israeli, Canadian, Scottish mista’aravim jew has more passports than Mossad agent… Nice to be well connected.

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  10. Kristin says:

    I think the Rania Ismail angle is an interesting one. The very first person she friended when she joined fb in 2010 was Amina, and Amina wrote Wow on her profile pic. But what is weird is how the two accounts have very different privacy settings.

  11. Mae says:

    This was very interesting to read. You’re right to have your doubts. I live in Egypt and went to a rally to support Amina and stand against the shameful acts committed by the Syrian government. I would be (mildly) annoyed if she turned out to be a fictional character, but not disappointed. Anything that brings people together at this point is not to be considered a bad thing. If she’s not real, at the least her story inspired people.

  12. Liz Henry says:

    Mae, I am okay with my doubts, but I think the key is, she is a missing person and we act for her release. And if the doubts turn out to be justified, roll that energy that was sparked into action for the people and stories that *are* verified.

  13. Liz, I got email from Amina before her disappearance, and am happy to share the email headers with you. I’ll send them along.

    Ben

  14. Maddy says:

    If you look at the comments on the latest post there is one from a US embassy representative requesting more information about Amina as they cannot find references to her in their system, despite her being am American citizen. Interesting, to say the least.

  15. If Amina is a hoax… then my money’s on Norma Khouri!

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  17. Kenneth says:

    Nicely written.

    As for Sandra Bagaria trying to get anything from her computer verified, I’m skeptical after all those “experts” were able to figure out Anthony Weiner’s Twitter account had been hacked!

  18. Liz Henry says:

    @Ben, @Kenneth, I have the email headers but they’re from a GMail account and GMail doesn’t keep the originating IP.

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  20. Liz Henry says:

    A linkdrop.

    Photos of Amina called into question: http://blogs.wsj.com/dispatch/2011/06/08/photos-of-syrian-american-blogger-called-into-question/

    Women of the “Arab Spring” who are described as non-traditional: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jun/08/heroines-arab-spring-gay-girl-in-damascus

    Tal al-Mahoulli, 19 year old Syrian blogger who was detained earlier this year and is thought to be dead: https://www.facebook.com/Tal.alMallouhi [[ETA: Tal al-Mahouli is alive and still in prison. Here is a summary from the Committee to Protect Journalists.]]

    Report from Human Rights Watch on Syrian security forces:
    http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2011/06/01/we-ve-never-seen-such-horror-0

  21. Deb Rox says:

    You always make me think, Liz, and this situation is so thick. I realize that am very triggered into limbic brain on this situation–the idea of a lesbian detained in Syria is haunting.

    • Monkey Watch says:

      Which it is meant to be. Anyone who really knows Syria, knows a Syrian woman would never flaunt herself in this way. This is western PR garbage pruned to appeal to American sensibilities. There is no PC movement in Syria. You all are so ignorant its embarrassing. Makes it so easy to play you for the fools that you are. LOLOL

  22. Liz Henry says:

    Also good:

    “A safe space to debate LGBTQ-related issues in the Middle East”
    https://twitter.com/#!/AhwaaOrg
    http://ahwaa.org/

    Mideast Youth:
    http://www.mideastyouth.com/

  23. LHR says:

    The myspace profile [http://www.myspace.com/135726767] is a potential angle of inquiry for people who want to get to the bottom of this. I’m concerned that the momentum for assisting a real, endangered individual may flag if no one can locate someone who has met her in person.

    According to this profile she is an alum of Georgia State University. She’s not listed as one of their Applied Linguistics Alumni, but then, the list is clearly not comprehensive and actually pretty scant: [http://www2.gsu.edu/~wwwesl/alesl/alumni/index.html] There are no other MAs from 2007 listed, but perhaps someone from an overlapping cohort knew her?

    Alternately, could someone from GSU’s Lambda Epsilon Sigma chapter attest to her existence?

    While the main myspace profile pic is not of Amina, and doesn’t purport to be (“Self Image? I wish!”)–can anyone identify the woman in the other photo (the second one, where her face isn’t blocked)?

    Do any of the “friends” listed know her IRL?

  24. Kristin says:

    Also, this dating website profile: http://personals.nwsource.com/p/member.cgi?dcb=personals.nwsource.com&mid=2419008_76296

    But seriously whoever suggested the cousin angle- I keep coming back to that. She is listed as being interested in men AND women. She lives in the town that Amina’s myspace says she went to High School in (in Georgia) even though her blog said she went to High School in Virginia. The cousin went to Georgia State, just like the myspace page for Amina says. I think she could be writing true stories from her past but as Amina, with a different current day. Also Amina’s blog says she did not go away to University right away, instead staying at home with her parents in Syria for a few years, but the Myspace page says she graduated in the four years from GA St, right after high school. It’s not adding up.

  25. Ryan Rhodes says:

    Well, it’s just nice to see the ghost of Plain Layne won’t go softly into that good night. . . or ever, for that matter.

    If this was the work of Odin Soli, I’d have to give him credit for staying true to his chosen literary genre.

    • Liz Henry says:

      Hi Ryan! How nice to see you again! It would be interesting to apply some of the same techniques we used to uncover Layne/Soli/Aconit connection, like looking for unusual but shared phrases between various works.

  26. Liz Henry says:

    @Leslie, yes, I came across a sort of motherlode of confusing identities. AmyLynn or AndreaLynn, who is writing to Andrea. Andrea who online-married AmyLynn’s (now dead) half-sister Jennifer Cheyenne. Andrea’s alter ego is Brittney Williams. I think they are all the same person. It would take some untangling. Brittney’s writings are especially interesting if you start looking at what she writes and what Amina writes. Amina is a better writer, and uses online tools in a different way.

    http://www.freewebs.com/andrea853/
    http://www.authorsden.com/visit/author.asp?AuthorID=78118
    http://proudlyforgotten.tumblr.com/
    http://cheyennemorningstar.webs.com/
    http://www.freewebs.com/cheys-story/
    http://andrea853.webs.com/volumei.htm
    http://www.agonia.net/index.php/author/0020564/Andrea_Krasznai
    http://andrea853.webs.com/apps/blog/

    • Kristin says:

      From the WashPo:

      On her blog, Arraf named her parents as Abdallah Ismail Arraf and Caroline McClure Arraf. The Post has been unable to find a Caroline McClure Arraf in either Atlanta or Georgia, two locations Arraf claims that her mother lived.

      • Liz Henry says:

        It might be fruitful to switch the names around a bit and look for a McClure father and a Syrian mother. That might be a path to find A.L. McClure.

    • leslie says:

      http://www.youtube.com/user/Andy853

      Andrea, errr, Britney?’s youtube channel…

      I don’t think that this rabbit hole is related to Amina, but it seems very strange

  27. nasim says:

    Hi all, I’m Nasim Khatib, A syrian American, I have doubted Amina’s blog from the first day I read it.
    first I agree that Rania and Amina might be one.. if u look at her facebook page.. there’s a comment by one of her friends about name meanings telling her “stop being a Rania” then she told her.. “I did Amina’s too”
    I doubted her in the beginning because, I was born and raised in Syria, I know every street in Syria, and many of the stories of Amina just don’t make sense for me. On top of that, her openness about her sexuality especially with her family made me doubt her even more! A lot of red flags made me wonder.. and I always discusssed that with my husband who is a Syrian American, and after I read every post, he would tell me “come on”… I tried to post many comments on her blog but deleted them, but one.. I didn’t want people to hate me especially that she had many fans. “Amina” sure livED in Syria, and she sure knows how to speak Arabic with a Syrian accent. But she’s not accurate in a lot of her information!
    eg. 1. she states in one of her posts that she lives in old damascus, and she used to go up on the roof to look at the city. Old Damascus, does not look over anything.. they are old ancient houses that overlook nothing but other roofs.. people living in old Damascus are mostly extremely poor.. she stated that she came from a wealthy well known family.
    2. “My Dad, Me hero” is the biggest red flag for me, and for that I commented on her post doubting her story(u can check it).. and I told her that I just don’t understand how security officers could be yelled at by ur dad and then they just leave! that’s just not realistic! Security in Syria are murderers and criminals, they don’t care about mom, dad or anyone.. and when they want to arrest someone they won’t simply just “leave” because her dad yelled at them.. and to debunk my doubts, her cousin “Rania” told me that she knows Amina and she’s her cousin and that this indeed did happen! .. lead me to more doubts…
    3. In one of her stories she states that she went to pick her girlfriend up from the airport and they were making out all the way to their house????? that’s a big red flag.. in Syria, making out with any gender is a BIG NO NO! let alone gay couple! and no one dares to do it!
    4. she stated in one of her posts that when she prayed in teh Ummayyad mosque there was a girl with a cross in the mosque next to her, and a girl with King David’s star on the other and then they started the protest… big question mark.. THER ARE NO JEWS IN SYRIA! NONE! let alone in mosques!
    And the list goes on.. from drinking and talking about her sexuality with her dad while getting drunk together and waking up on the floor…. to having a courtyard and a doorman in her old Damascus house.. which is very unrealistic and cannot happen in anyway… etc.. etc…
    As I said.. she has been in Syria.. she knows the names of SOME streets.. but many streets she named.. dont’ exist! And she knows Arabic.. but I just think she’s not real! and she was trying to gain publicity to publish a book.. because she had many posts about who to contact to publish her writings!
    I, too hope I’m wrong, but truly doubt it!

    • Liz Henry says:

      Thank you Nasim! I don’t have any special knowledge of Syria, or what it’s like to live there, so I’m really glad to get your perspective.

      I noted a message board for discussion about, for, and by LBGTQ issues & life in the middle east — I’m sure there are more online forums but this is the first one I found: http://ahwaa.org/

    • Liz Henry says:

      Your remark on there being no Jewish people in Syria led me to read Syrian Jews and History of the Jews in Syria. Both articles say there are a few Jews in Damascus though the sources cited weren’t very good. But googling turns up other sources: Syrian Jews celebrate Passover at only synagogue in Damascus — “Only about 100 Jews left in Syria, chief rabbi of Damascus synagogue left for U.S.”.

      • nasim says:

        and that’s why I told u that there can’t possibly be a Jew in a mosque let alone protesting against Assad…. there are 100 in 23 million! it was just unrealistic to me to find one sitting next to you! I’ve lived in Syria for 22 years.. never met a Jew.. even before the Jews left Syria..

    • shafeeq says:

      Hi Nasim Khatib

      Your sense of picking things is very brilliant and you have such detecting abilities to suspect on the grounds of reality is superb.

  28. nasim says:

    and please look into Rania’s friend Beka Rojano.. she seems to know something.. and they seem to talk in code!

    • Nes says:

      I, too, noticed that about her friend Beka. Also, seems like Amina did some freelance writing or work for a gaming company…

      http://www.adastragames.com/

      I read somewhere on a discussion board that her contact there was Scott Palter. His email and phone number are listed at the bottom of the page.

      • scott palter says:

        Amina did contribute to several projects. It was not a formal freelancng but her assistance was sufficient to merit credit. Ad Astra ius an imprint of Final Sword Productions before THAT confusion starts new conspiracy theories. So is Under the Moon Books and Genre Connections Web store.

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  31. Noir says:

    Interesting. When my alarm goes off it is when… it leaves me a taste of, “people who are non white, straight, able, cis, non-USIAN/Western, non-rape-survivors could be, well… sockpuppets.” For the exoticism it provides for white, straight, male… privileged writers. Which is… ugh. You may understand myself feeling uncomfortable.

    What it isn’t “normal” for some could “reasonably be distrusted. “

    • Liz Henry says:

      I agree with you here, I think, and it takes very little to trivialize someone out of history, and just a bit more to doubt they ever existed. To me, it feels like we can never do or achieve enough. There is no magic bar that we can pass to be real. Honestly, I still look around all the communities women I know have built, and think: How will we, too, be erased? It’s painful.

      That’s important, but that’s not what I think is happening here. Though in some people’s minds, it could be.

    • Liz Henry says:

      One more thing though… I didn’t go into this looking to debunk her existence — I went looking for who she was in order to find out how to help her. Maybe that isn’t clear! But the more I looked, the more I didn’t find anything.

      After a day of the State Dept. and AP researchers saying nothing could be found on the names that were confirmed as real names by the “cousin”, Rania, my doubts solidified.

  32. Noir says:

    (Not saying though Amina is real or something. Just that… the pattern in this post of “fictional people” is a kinda disturbing one. Probably more the fault of white, cis, straight western writers who choose to impersonate non-western, non-straight POC since it will be the only way they could get an audience due to… the novelty and excitement of being The Other. Or something.)

    • Liz Henry says:

      Noir, thank you, this is a super important point. Yes, I meant to point to a particular hoax/fiction blogger, Soli, and his consistent pattern of writing himself as “The Other”, exactly as you describe.

      I don’t want to contribute to patterns of invisiblifying non-US-ian non-straight bloggers, and that *is* a danger in this situation. Much of my work in feminist history and translation has been in trying to work against the disappearance of women out of history — very much including women of color, lesbians, and in particular women from Latin America — so I am fairly stressed that I’m pointing out the inconsistencies in this story and doubting a person’s entire existence. I have walked out of rooms and friendships and careers because of people who said “There weren’t any lesbians in (whatever) country and in (some past) time” or “There are no Chicana poets”, and so on. My answer has always been: “I bet there WERE, and I will commit my research to looking deeper.” And so far, I have always found those elusive women who “don’t exist”. There are so many! Their writing is everywhere.

      Today on the BBC World Have Your Say radio show one of the journalists, who was either from Avaaz or Al Aan, said that she looked up Amina’s name in Arabic and found not even one result. It is a non-story, not just because no one in the activist/blogging communities that have contacts in mainstream media outlets she was looking at knew her, but because they would not be able to cover the story because of the “homosexuality”. My feeling here is that people’s histories and stories are being suppressed and erased, and that’s wrong and we should fight that, and listen to them — and yet if there’s something worse than not listening, I think it might be replacing a member of a marginalized group’s story with one told , falsely, by someone incredibly privileged. Here I suspect that Amina’s writer may be doing something very much like that, like the writer Nasidjj who won awards meant for Native American writers but who turned out to be a white guy, Timothy Patrick Barrus. I wanted to hear Amina’s story. I read back through a good portion of her blog archives when I first came across My Father, the Hero, and promoted her blog as an interesting one to follow to get to know a Syrian-American who was writing from Syria. And a science fiction & fantasy fan, no less! How lovely! Now I am taking a hard look at that reaction.

      To all the people I may have hurt with my public doubts, I am very sorry. I think that many marginalized people get messages that they don’t count, their existence isn’t “real” in the eyes of those in power, as women, people of color, as lesbians, gay, trans, bi, people, as mixed race or disabled or working class people… I understand that, and don’t want to contribute to that process. Yet I felt that my hasty research and clumsy explanations were like a stab in the heart of my lesbian blogger friends and co-workers, of my Arab-American friends, that it would look like I doubt Amina simply for being a lesbian Syrian-American writing from Syria. Her writing about intersectionalities of identity is what made me like her so strongly — not what made me doubt her.

  33. LHR says:

    Liz, I for one appreciate your thoughtful stance as well as your commitment to the truth. I have found a few more things worth investigating:

    1. A new comment on the Gay Girl In Damascus site, as follows:
    “Mitchell said…For the people who believe she’s a fake,
    http://aminaarraf.blogspot.com
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/alternate-history/message/25691
    9 June 2011 04:10″
    The first link, we’ve seen. The second link is new. It leads to a web site about alternate history. The particular message linked is an exchange wherein “Mark” alerts folks in the community that Amina, who hasn’t been active in awhile, has been kidnapped by Syrian paramilitary. The reply from another member, a language professor, is as follows: “Are you sure it is the same woman? I recall her announcement of her marriage here some years ago…” To which Mark replies: “Unfortunately, yes. There cannot be that many women named Amina Arraf who are Arab-American with roots in Syria and Virginia. And she is still friends with Scott Palter. She was married a few years back, IIRC. Obviously, her personal life is complicated.”

    2. From the above, we can deduce that Scott Palter is supposedly Amina’s ex husband.

    3. Scott Palter is also very active on the Alternate History Today web site (his photo and bio are here: http://www.todayinah.co.uk/index.php?searchfield1=Scott+Palter&userid=twitter). His posts are searchable by his name but you have to include another criterion because if you use only his name you get 5000+ results.

    4. Scott Palter is also one of three editors listed for Bellum, a project of the Stanford Review, which was running Amina’s blog posts. Link: http://bellum.stanfordreview.org/?page_id=2
    From their “About us” page: “Welcome to Bellum, a new media project of The Stanford Review. Conceived in January 2009, this collaborative blog brings together a team of Stanford alums who, despite having entered professional fields quite far removed from war, have nevertheless retained a passion for international security affairs and geopolitics.” Scott Palter’s bio there: “Scott Palter graduated from Stanford Law and Dartmouth, and is a veteran war game developer and publisher with West End Games and elsewhere.”

    Link to Amina’s posts there: http://bellum.stanfordreview.org/?s=amina

    I should think that Mr. Palter would make an excellent contact for getting to the bottom of things.

    • Liz Henry says:

      LHR emailed me just now adding:

      While I think the point still holds that Scott Palter is a strong lead, I just realized I may have completely misinterpreted “Mark”‘s post to indicate
      that he’s the ex husband. It now reads to me as just be an unfortunate juxtaposition of sentences, and not an implication to that effect at all.

      (Which is good, because he seemed totally implausible in that role–and if that were the story, I’d be convinced that he was the author himself.) So it’s just more ambiguity for now.

      • scott palter says:

        ROFLMAO. I am many things but Amina’s ex-husband is among the funniest things I have ever heard. I have never physically met or spoken with the lady. I believe her to be real but perhaps I am just easy to fool. We have exchanged tens of thousands of words over the years I have known her/or thought I did. I have sent her holiday cards. USPS never returned any. I know someone who met someone supposed to have been Amina at DragonCon 09. There are pictures someplace [person is looking but Con pictures are not the sort of high priority item you always remember where you put].

        • LHR says:

          Hi Scott,

          Thanks for coming by to weigh in. And sorry for that confusion-I did realize it was a misreading. So, someone met someone who said she was Amina in person? Photo or no, do they remember what she looked like? Does she match either the myspace photo or the photo of “Rania?” Is this person talking to the press, esp Andy Carvin?

          I’m full of questions–but this is the first time anyone’s said they met Amina in person.

          • scott palter says:

            I know of no one who has met Amina in peron but then our linked web groups include hundreds of people spread on multiple continents and we mostly never actually meet. Other than at conventions I have met one person of this grouping. Counting conventions perhaps half a dozen. Yet we send hundreds of messages every day. Amina was a VERY frequent poster on “thecrescentland” which she owned. She was a major poster for a while on other lists we shared. I know of still other list she was on with other people from the groups. She also sent loads of private emails. If she is a hoax do not know whether to laugh or shrug. A lot of effort to fool a bunch of geeks.

          • lhr says:

            Scott, I’m confused. You said: “I know someone who met someone supposed to have been Amina at DragonCon 09.” And said that person is looking for photos. Then you said “I know of no one who has met Amina in per[s]on.” Am I missing something?

          • lhr says:

            And would that person’s photos perhaps have made it online?
            Say, on flickr, or here:
            http://www.dragoncon.org/dc_links_fanphoto.php

    • Liz Henry says:

      A search on the alternate history boards shows Amina’s posts from 2008 onwards.

      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/alternate-history/msearch?query=arraf&submit=Search&charset=ISO-8859-1

      She refers to her husband and says he is Jewish.

      This gives us a new screen name of “threefoldamina” to search on. She posts many times in the Alternate History group, in a group on Iraq, and one on SF/AHwriter Harry Turtledove. Here is the search that will show those results.

      • Jackie M. says:

        She likes.
        alternative.
        history.

        Oh, boy.

        • Liz Henry says:

          Well, yes… but I like to think about fictional personas and bloggers. I did kind of want to ask the BBC folks, What makes you sure *I’m* real?

      • Kristin says:

        Scott Palters email is on that message board still. Should we try to contact him?

        • LHR says:

          Kristin, thank you for following up. I don’t have a twitter account–maybe someone who does can tweet this info to Andy Carvin? His team seems pretty active on the case and an address is a good lead.

      • Kristin says:

        He seems to go by Daniel sometimes, he is 62 and from Iowa. I feel like it would be worth it just to ask if he knows her since that post said he is still friends with her. Why is the media so slow on this stuff?

        • Liz Henry says:

          We should… I worry extremely that there is a slim chance she exists and there is still some explanation for why no one official can find any trace of her existence. Maybe name is correct, but so many other details were fictionalized ? But she would have had a passport, birth records in the U.S…. and so on. If Palter can give more details maybe it would help find her for real. However, it still unfortunately seems more likely that she is a construct…

          • Kristin says:

            From Scott:

            Until Amina is disproven I am a web friend of Amina’s. IF Amina is proven to be a web handle I am a friend of whoever was running the sock puppet. That said do not recall her from THAT list. Was on HER list.

            However before I answer anyway who are you and why are you researching this?

            Scott

          • Kristin says:

            He says he has an address where he sent mail for her as well and that they were picked up. But he doesn’t want to share the address and I can’t get a journalist to reply to me about contacting him.

          • LHR says:

            I sent the following to Scott Palter via the Alternate History site:

            Dear Scott,

            I followed the Gay Girl blog for awhile and am very concerned for the blogger. If they were blogging from Syria, it seems to me that their identity is not the issue–political dissidence is. The problem is that if the blogger has really been detained, nobody has their correct information so no one can campaign for their release.

            That is why I have been trying to track any information about them, and followed a comment from Gay Girl to this site, and a reference to your friendship with Amina. On a related blog comment thread, it came up that you have an old address for Amina. I appreciate your not wanting to disclose anything to a stranger on the internet, (as reported by the other person who contacted you regarding this) but would you please get in contact with journalist Andy Carvin of NPR? He is working to support the blogger behind Amina, whoever they may be, in the event that the detention part of the story is real.

            His twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/acarvin

            Thank you,

            Leah

          • Kristin says:

            Yeah Scott and I had been emailing but he trailed off about an hour ago, I don’t think he wants to be inundated with emails. He and the other people on the message board are getting together to decide to release what info they have so I think they are taking care of it.

        • scott palter says:

          Legal name is Daniel Scott Palter. Had a mildly [matter of months] older first cousin named Daniel Franklin Palter. I became Scott. Such is life.

      • Mark says:

        Interesting that when you do that search a name “Bunny Carruthers” in Georgia comes up, and if you click on mylife.com/threefoldamina you get taken to mylife.com/bunnycarruthers

        • Violette says:

          I noticed that, as well! I was trying to follow this lead but didn’t seem to get anywhere. Perhaps an alias?

  34. Amy Young says:

    wow, you guys are doing a great job. I’ve my own partial assistance, based on a former girlfriend who did something similar, if less media-intensive and her theories on what motives Amina could have had for things other than the kidnapping (cause we’re just stumped there). In particular, we think we know why Jelena Lecic.

    Unfortunately in the course of investigating this story I have not slept in more than 30 hours I think (it’s getting hard to focus), so it’ll have to wait until tomorrow at earliest.

    • Liz Henry says:

      I’m not sure I understood that, but I’m also in need of sleep and should stop reading all this stuff for the night!

      I know the “Find Amina” efforts based on the names in the Gay Girl blog that were confirmed by the cousin have not resulted in any luck finding evidence of a person in the U.S. or Damascus. That’s the more crucial and time sensitive search, which I assume (and hope) is still ongoing, in case Amina is in custody and needs serious help.

      If that keeps on resulting in nothing then I do think it’s worthwhile to continue our amateur efforts to find out who the writer is, identify, expose, and perhaps help them — and the people they have fooled. But it will probably not be of interest to the AP or State Department at that point other than as a curiosity.

      I’m still reading about the AmandaLynn nexus, but keeping in mind they may still be a source material of the possible hoax writer, rather than a lead directly to that writer. It sounds like you are pursuing a different line of research!

    • Amy Young says:

      Ah, that was a good sleep. I’m not actually looking at the new stuff, even though it’s such a great lead. Instead, I’m thinking about why for now.

      There are several unexplained facts about Amina:
      1) I assume she is her cousin Rania, meaning she faked her kidnapping. I’ve yet to strictly mathematically analyse the posts’ writing but from a glance their styles look the same. On the other hand, there’s also pretty much a strict binary choice between Rania being fake and the Kidnapping being real. Few scenarios allow both to be real or fake.
      2) She exists only at 2007 and beyond- everywhere I found- her myspace, her dating profiles, etc., I couldn’t find proof she existed from earlier than about that.
      3) She had a ton of photos from Jelena Lecic, and was using her photos as her own, but only at the start of the blog. Before she used a pastiche of stolen profile pics from obscure parts of the internet, only one currently identified (Dr Rania Al-Zubaidi, an arabic teacher formerly in vermont)
      4) She seemed to be using her identity as Amina Abdallah semi-permanently (on and off?) since inception, intending to be chatting up girls for internet (and physical?) relationships and whatnot. Flirted at least once with someone according to someone’s twitter. And seemed to have a pretty serious relationship with at least one girl, to the point of her blog being filled with beautiful poetry to her.
      5) Nobody reported her missing. If there is a real missing person, she’s very very deeply undercover but also has either no family or no effective familial support.
      6) Psychologically, her blog’s fantastic elements have what I term a ‘fantasist’ vibe, though not in the creepy sense. She might not be Amina Abdallah, but I’m convinced she wants to be someone like Amina Abdallah- a beautiful revolutionary, out, and especially supported by her family beyond her wildest dreams, and that her writing and fake online persona are something she cultivated over years to this aim. That makes her doing the kidnapping even weirder though, if it’s fake.

      I’ve further emailed you a document, Liz, because I don’t want to say some things out loud to the world. Whether it’s wrong or right, it can only make things worse.

      • Liz Henry says:

        Amy, that is fantastic research, thank you! I’ll go look for your email.

        I did find poems by a Rania Ismail from 2001 and onwards. They don’t read to me like they are in the same style as Amina’s or AmandaLynn’s poems though certainly a good writer/role player could keep various personas and styles separate. Rania the 2001 poet could be evidence in support of a real Rania, or could just be an entirely different person unrelated to this, or could be an entirely different person used as source material by the Amina writer.

      • ap says:

        So the myspace photo is of Dr Rania Al-Zubaidi? Who figured that out, and how?

      • Jessamy says:

        Hello! I was reading through these comments like most of us interested in the unraveling of the Amina hoax when I came across your comment. Rania Al Zubaidi is a friend of mine (I was a student at the Middlebury Arabic Language School when she taught there & I’ve been to visit her in Jordan a couple of times), and I was very surprised (alarmed, really) to see her name here. Where was her picture used? Has it been taken down already? Do you know if anyone has contacted her about it? Or was that just a mix-up?

  35. Andy Walpole says:

    People, are you sure we should be digging this deep? If she is real and has taken great pains to cover her identity with a false then that is for a good reason. To reveal here true identity could put her life and well being in danger more than it already is

    • Gray says:

      Andy, IF she’s real, she already is in the hands of Syrian “security” now! So, how can the investigation here compromise her security any further? More logical thinking, pls.

    • Gray says:

      If she’s real, then the story about her arrest is true, too, and the Syrian “security” bureau knows her true identity now. If she isn’t real, she/he probably isn’t in Syria at all, but maybe in Edinburgh. But, ok, if someone finds a really hot clue, it may be better not to post it publicly.

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  37. nasim says:

    Just a reminder.. Amina’s name is Amina Abdullah Araf Al Omari.. so technically, her last name is Al Omari, even though it doesn’t seem to be used much in her blog as her last name.. and Al Omari family is well known in Syria.. …
    In one of her posts, she says something about her brother Amr, who is still in the U.S running a famiy business http://damascusgaygirl.blogspot.com/2011/05/mabruk-ya-amr-wa-mlica.html
    Try looking into that.. you can also search for Rania’s records in the U.S and see if there are any more similarities between Amina and Rania.. Amina might be true but mixed with some fiction… her facts about the revolution are very true, her videos are true.. her thoughts are very truthful, and match the thoughts of many Syrian women! Many women have been arrested and kidnapped off the streets.. a friend of mine named Dana Al Jawabra, an architect and an activist, who was arrested before and then again was kidnapped that same way, and was released a month later untouched.. So, usually women are treated better than others when arrested.
    I guess, I’m just trying to give you people a “bit” of comfort towards her destiny if she was real.. There are about 10,000 people arrested and detained in underground prisons somewhere in Syria. Amina, real or not, is one of them. We pray for their release and their safety!

    • Liz Henry says:

      I’m glad your friend Dana came out okay.

      I hope someone doing more research is reading this thread. If I talk to media again I’ll point them to it and to all the leads mentioned here. While I don’t know the details of who looked and how hard they looked, I know the U.S. government, and various human rights and activist NGOs, and the Associated Press, all were researching to find *any* evidence of Amina’s identity. I have to believe they looked for her relatives as well!

      The central question now bothering me is: Rania the cousin posted very clearly that she was using real names. Some record of those names should exist!

      Could it be possible that all those people whose jobs it is to research, with all their superior resources, couldn’t find a bill, a birth record, a school registration, a passport, anything?

  38. Gray says:

    WHY should we believe she used her real name, when she’s so concerned about her safety that she uses pictures of another person and routes her email through a proxy server in Scotland? That doesn’t make any sense.

    • Gray says:

      Uh, a technical issue: “[WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ’0 which is not a hashcash value.”

      “hashcash”? I understand it’s a is a denial-of-service counter measure tool, but what does this have to do with my comment? I’m not a Spammer. WordPress misconfiguration?

  39. Shax says:

    She may or may not actually live in Syria, as Nasim said there are some inconsistencies with her descriptions of Damascus. But one thing I am almost certain of is that she is of Arab descent. Arabic is not her first language, her command of it was not very strong and the communication I and friends of mine have had with her were never in Arabic. BUT, some of her posts are very indicative of being quite immersed in queer Arab politics and discourse. One of her posts that circulated heavily among queer Arab activists was Pinkwashing Assad http://bit.ly/jPgYuk. These are not mainstream LGBT views by any means, nor are they popular with mainstream LGBT rights activists. You would have to be very familiar with queer Arab discourse to speak in this sort of language.

    • Liz Henry says:

      I’m glad people who know a lot about it are speaking up to explain some of the politics & also details of how she uses Arabic. Any, any chance she might be real, any proof, means we can muster up support for her.

  40. H says:

    It’s interesting that Rania Ismail lists her children on FB and one of them is named Thawra. Thawra is Arabic for revolution. Not relevant perhaps but interesting nonetheless.
    Also, none of Rania’s FB contacts share either the Ismail or Arraf surname – that’s quite unusual for Arabs who have extended families and tend to have multiple FB connections from the same family name.

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  42. nasim says:

    agree with H about Thawra.. and might I add, the boy’s name is Thaer.. which means the revolutianist! (spelling)..
    looking at her profile, Rania seems like an advocate for GL rights in Islam and the Arab world…. I don’t know why the idea of, a Lesbian of an Arab descent wants to come out so bad.. she just writes about it and imagines how it goes, is haunting me! I may be going too far… I know I know…

    • Kristin says:

      No I totally agree this theory. Also from the posts on the message board I have been reading, I think the family business is a restaurant, her parents met outside of Washington DC, and she works at a bank translating information about investments for customers in the Gulf and in Jordan. And she’s hella smart.

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  44. A says:

    Is there any possibility whomever is responsible for Amina’s blog also wrote as Riverbend? I remember reading that reporters weren’t able to get in touch with her either when she was in Iraq and their writing style is similar. She hasn’t updated her blog since her supposed move to Syria, and I can’t remember there being any evidence that she actually existed either.

    • Liz Henry says:

      Oh, A.

      Now you have seriously depressed me. I adore Riverbend.

      I think for analyses of writing style, it can be a hard call. But what can work is to look for unusual phrases that are used in both — by comparing one body of work and another. That’s a fair amount of work which I don’t have time to do right now, but maybe someone else will do it. Anyway, that’s part of how Plain Layne and Aconit were shown to have the same author.

      • sHx says:

        You don’t need an analysis of their (Riverbend & Amina) writing styles. You only have to ask the same question: Has anyone ever seen either of them?

        There was a lot of questions about Riverbend’s authenticity as well when her ‘Baghdad Burning’ blog was still active. Her supporters vigorously defended her as the real deal, yet nobody knew her personally.

        The only person who has reportedly met Riverbend is Salam Pax, the Baghdad blogger that came out of anonymity following the fall of Saddam. And the only thing he said about Riverbend was that she was real and she was an ‘Iraqi’. This was never verified by anyone else.

        At this stage it is perfectly reasonable to speculate as to whether Amina and Riverbend are the same individual.

        Perhaps, Salam Pax could tell us more about Riverbend. Is she still in contact with her? How is life treating her in ‘peaceful’ Syria?

        • Eli says:

          I’m pretty sure that Amina is not Riverbend. I’d never heard of Riverbend until today (from reading the comments here), and I haven’t done a thorough side-by-side analysis of the two blogs or anything like that, but even to a casual reader it’s clear that the style is completely different. Riverbend is a much better writer. Her prose is less stilted, and in two years of blog entries (the most recent — 2006-2007) I’ve only come across one sentence in which her syntax bears a noticeable resemblance to Amina’s.

    • jcl says:

      Isn’t this Amina/Rania from Riverbend Virginia?

      • Eli says:

        Riverport, which would appear to be a fictional location — at least, Google doesn’t recognize it and the Washington Post’s researchers couldn’t find a zip code for it. Any Virginians around who can confirm or deny?

  45. Grazia says:

    Hi, I found this thread while looking for more information about the “Amina case”. I was also a reader of her blog. I am quite convinced she is real, she had a presence on the web before the Gay girl in Damascus Blog.
    From your research and mine I gather:
    - Myspace account (name Amina, picture,details)
    - NW SourcePersonals (nickname almondeyez, 7 pictures – 2 are the same of the myspace account, in the others I assume it to be of the same person in particular a graduation photo, details are the same of myspace)
    - Contributor of Alternative history yahoo group
    - Contributor of blog lezgetreral.com (name Amina Abdallah)

    The details about her background, sexuality, education,divorce etc. on Myspace and NW are consistent, so are the pictures.

    It’s pretty normal that she had to conceil her identity seriously when she started the Gay girl in Damascus blog. The real Amina has to be found in these previous activities on the internet, when times were safer.
    What I see as serious problem that ought to be explained by Amina (when she will be hopefully released) is how it was hacked the Jelena Lecic account and the pictures nicked. Identity theft is a serious crime.

  46. Leah C. says:

    Just wanted to chip in on the Arabic/Syria aspect of the blog.

    I believe that Amina is “real”, knows some Arabic (possibly is Arab), and has been to Syria. I do not believe that she is currently in Syria or speaks fluent Arabic.

    I lived in Syria for over a year and have been traveling there since 2006. I also have studied Arabic for 8 years. Amina demonstrates no exceptional knowledge of Arabic or of local Syrian dialect. The Arabic words that she does sprinkle into her writing would be known by most non Arabic speaking Arabs. The Arabic transliterations that she cites at length are of the Quran. Since non-Arabic speakers must recite the Quran, English transliterations are widely available. Arabic is a very rich language — and Syrian dialect more so. It seems odd that there are not more remarks about the nuances of the dialect itself.

    I believe the Arabic issue is relevant since Amina documents extensive dialogues that supposedly happened in Syrian dialect. If she was not fluent in Arabic, there is no way she would be able to understand the dialogues that she outlined. Simply not possible.

    In her breakout post on her father and the mukhabarat, she makes several references that the Arabic curse words they were using were much “rawer.” I kept on waiting for her to reference those words. She didn’t.

    As for whether or not she is in Syria, I also have my doubts. After reading most of her accounts of daily life, some of her stories are too extraordinary to believe (as many have already said here). She outlines one incident where her father and her dress in Muslim garb (with her in niqab) and go to the mosque for a meeting of revolutionaries. She says that one of the guards grabs her ass and asks her why she is with such an old man. She said he had an accent from Qardaha. (Qardaha is the Asads’ hometown and many Alawis are known for hard pronunciation of the Arabic Qaf — something that is widely known by Syrians and Syrian Americans.)

    This incident to me, among others, seemed like a stretch. There is harassment in Syria, but of a woman in niqab? With an older man? At an entrance to a mosque? Even in Syria where atrocities are being committed, individuals do not abandon social norms like these over night. Furthermore, if she is attending “revolutionary” meetings, I assume they would necessitate a strong command of Arabic — something that Amina has never completely demonstrated.

    Just my two cents. As Liz said, if I am wrong, I apologize and I’m an idiot.

    • jcl says:

      I’d guess she didn’t study Arabic or didn’t study it in the U.S. While her manner of transcription varies (probably with source) it more often follows Indian or Pakistani usage.

      No one who studied Arabic here would like two nouns with noun1-e-noun2 or noun1-i-noun2.

      We’d write: noun-i/a/u noun.

      Also, the translation of the Quran she is citing is, as far as I know, only popular in the subcontinent.

  47. nasim says:

    ok.. just think with me.. if her name was fake.. her pics were fake.. the proxys she uses are all misleading.. then how and why did the security officers stop by her house to arrest her.. and only her.. she truely states in her blog that they(security) read her blog and are even aware of her sexuality! so they came to her house to arrest her becuase of her policital views on her blog, yet everything on it is fake………..sorry doesn’t make sense to me!

    another interesting thing.. she obviously has an old new account on Netlog.. netlog is a hebrew social network…. ok what?? and why?? and just fyi.. Netlog is blocked in Arab countries.. most of them.. in Syria every Israeli website is blocked!
    If u remember I pointed out in my post above, Beka, Rania’s friend on facebook.. well it turns out, Beka is Amina’s friend on Netlog.. ok this is getting complicated! I don’t know how this helps…. but I just think it might lead us to something.. especially that on one of the groups she states that her husband is Jewish! ..SMH.. will somebody put all this info together.. I’m getting dizzy!

  48. Liz Henry says:

    Meanwhile, Paula Brooks’ statements point entirely elsewhere, from the Washington Post article:

    American blogger Paula Brooks started communicating with Arraf via e-mail in February, but was initially suspicious about Arraf’s identity when she saw the location of her IP address. The address seems to have been routed through Edinburgh in Scotland. Arraf told Brooks she occasionally used proxy Web addresses to protect her safety in Syria, a procedure some Middle East bloggers have turned to under Internet blockades. The two spoke regularly on e-mail and chat.

    Since Arraf’s IP address is in Edinburgh in Scotland, Brooks notes that Arraf could have been blogging from the University of Edinburgh all along.

    Arraf also told Brooks over Gchat that she was related to Najah Al-Attar, the current Vice President of Syria, who attended the University of Edinburgh. Al-Attar could possibly be the member of the government Arraf earlier said she was related to and had said made her invincible.

    Brooks knows Amina online through the site Lezgetreal.com.

    • Gray says:

      Ok, but if her stories are true, this means that a close relative to “Najah Al-Attar, the current Vice President of Syria” was once married to a Jewish guy? It’s a crazy world, sure, but this sounds somewhat improbable to me…

    • Anna says:

      There are profiles on netlog and linkedin for a Rania Ismail from the Falkirk/Stirling area. Possibly a PhD student at Stirling Uni.

      http://en.netlog.com/iam_the_rona

      http://www.linkedin.com/pub/rania-ismail/18/30b/595

      I suspect they’re probably unrelated to this, but the Scottish university connection intrigued me a little.

      • jcl says:

        When she talks about her family background, she has her mother’s side coming from Scotland. There are quite a few minor Scottish details about geography, cuisine, and language.

        On the other hand, much of the contemporary detail about VA tastes real, whereas all the details about the McClure family’s history in VA looks canned. It likely was picked up from an online source: a family’s genealogical records, the sort of thing hobbyists spend years working on. No way 200 year-old details were just sorta handed down.

        Her Dad’s archaic family history on the other hand is absolute nonsense. All the medieval stuff … there’s no source, anywhere, that preserves such information as a 1,400 yr list of ancestors back to Umar.

  49. nasim says:

    ok.. wait…. my bad.. Netlog is not Jewish.. but her profile is in Hebrew though :)

  50. So a thought just occurred to me. What if the story of Amina’s arrest is true, and the parents *did* in fact come forward, and tell the State Dept about their daughter — but they used Amina’s real name, not her online name, and they made no connection to Amina’s blog, either because they don’t actually know about it, or they think it cannot help Amina’s case to be associated with a dissident blog, particularly if the kidnappers may not actually know exactly who they have, or are not sure of it. If Amina is in custody and saying “who me? write a gay dissident blog? I don’t know what you’re talking about!” then the family might be trying to go far underground, and Rania might therefore be actively stonewalling inquiries in order to not have the connection made. And the State Dept., in order to protect Amina in such a case, might also not draw the connection in public.

  51. Liz Henry says:

    Also meanwhile, here are some interesting stories on protestors in Syria:

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2011-06-06/bashar-al-assads-syria-where-fear-and-beatings-stamp-out-dissent/2/

    Damascus remained an island of calm until the end of March, when spontaneous protests started occurring even there. There was no coordination, no defined leadership. The time and place for the demonstrations had to be transmitted from mouth to mouth, from friend to friend. And they had better be real friends.

    The girlfriends on the seventh floor are planning the first women-only demonstration in central Damascus. The following Monday they will meet on one of the better streets in a Damascene shopping district. They will stay in stores until the strike of 3, when they will gather and roll out their banners. They will run when the police arrive. And they plan to vanish, like shadows, into the side streets.

    … “I just want a good life,” says Alia. She works in a production company specializing in soap operas for the Palestinian market, and has a lot to lose. Her job. A boyfriend. Parties on the terraced roof. “You feel very small under this regime,” she says in halting French.

  52. Lea says:

    We still don’t know who the author is. But we learnt about the supposed abduction by Rania… Is the abduction a hoax? I listed 3 different scenarios. Maybe you can come up with more and better scenarios. From the ones I listed only A) seems realistic too me!

    A) Rania = Amina : Abduction is a hoax because the abducted person couldn’t have written about the abduction on the blog. Then either the story went too far and the author doesn’t know how to get out of it or the author is enjoying the buzz

    B) Rania is a cousin or a friend of Amina (someone who knows Amina well enough to have the blog’s password): Rania wrote that she talked to Amina’s parents. Both of them. So why is she now silent and why haven’t we heard anything from Amina’s US mother/state department? Doesn’t seem plausible

    C) Rania is not one of Amina’s friends: she is a Syrian official from Syrian government who hacked Amina’s blog and left useless contact details to distract public opinion? Heh?

    • Gray says:

      If Amina and Rania are real, then Rania probably got arrested after posting on the blog. It’s probable the Syrian “security” forces know about the blog. Why else should they have arrested Amina? And if they know the blog, they can trace anyone in Syria connecting to the IP.

      This doesn’t explain why they waited so long to arrest the blogger (with access to Syria’s internet network, hunting down who is blogging from inside the country is a piece of cake). But, ok, she may have had some political protection through relatives. IF she’s real at all.

      • Lea says:

        If Amina and Rania are real, then Rania lives in the US. So she probably didn’t get arrested! And if she were living in Syria and were arrested, it still doesn’t explain the fact that no one has heard anything from Amina’s parents.

      • Violette says:

        And if that were indeed true, then who is currently moderating the blog? Comments are still being deleted off the page so someone is controlling it. They just refuse to come forward.

  53. interested_party says:

    Well, here is some more fuel to add to this fire: Amina’s blog was started in Feb 2011, which is exactly when 20-year-old Syrian blogger Tal al-Mallouhi was sentended to 5 years in prison and accused of being a spy. The story of Tal is quite famous and well-known in Syria. But on the other hand, in some ways the story of Tal also makes the story of Amina more plausible.

    • June says:

      Thanks for that. Against what Liz says above in a comment, Tal is not believed to be dead. There is no more reality to Amina than to many of the news we have heard about Syria.
      The point remain that Tal has been condemned on 20th Feb. and is probably in jail.

      • Liz Henry says:

        Thank you June, I was mistaken and will go edit my post to reflect that!

        People can read more about imprisoned Syrian blogger Tal al-Mallouhi or Tal al-Mallohi here:
        * Syrian blogger sentenced to five years in prison

        Ruling behind closed doors in February, a Syrian court sentenced blogger Tal al-Mallohi to five years of imprisonment. She was 19 when first arrested in 2009. Al-Mallohi’s blog discussed Palestinian rights, the frustrations of Arab citizens with their governments, and what she perceived to be the stagnation of the Arab world. In March, online journalist Khaled Elekhetyar was detained for a week, while veteran blogger Ahmad Abu al-Khair was detained for the second time in two months.

        * Wikipedia article on Tal al-Mallohi
        * Facebook page, Free Tal al-Mallouhi

    • jcl says:

      And her very first post is a quick hello and then an account of how Syria needs to change, how she’d really like a better Syria, change, and revolution, and how she hopes she’ll have a role to play.

      This is what gay girls trying to find their voice first think to write about? Doubt it.

  54. nasim says:

    Tal was arrested Dec 27 2009.. I think it’s irrelevant! but that’s just me :)
    Here’s a thought.. what if the pics of Rania.. and Rania herself.. name pics.. last name.. etc.. is also fake! just like Amina’s! then who’s who?

  55. EDB says:

    Rania, girlfriend Sandra and Amina have a friend in common on FB called Marwa Khalil at the University of Damascus. Can someone look into this? Also Beka, who commented on Rania’s photo– her account appears to have vanished.
    And finally, most of Rania Ismail’s friends appear to be fake. It’s one thing to have a fake profile and add real people– but how did she get so many friends with fake profiles? That would appear to be computer generated…

  56. EDB says:

    Marwa Khalil looks a bit like the veiled Amina on that dating website… could be totally wrong. I can’t see the photos in large without upgrading or paying for an account.

  57. nasim says:

    Beka vanished!!!!! wow.. I saw her comments an hour ago! that’s weird! And she seemed to know both, too! especially that she was a friend of Amina on Netlog, too!

  58. nasim says:

    ok.. Beka is still there.. she commented on Rania’s quiz.. and she has a profile photo with sunglasses a kid and a tattoo on her arm!
    one more thing.. Rania.. or whoever is managing the blog is apparently deleting comments.. and still doing so! many of the people I know tried posting comments on her blog, inquiring some info about her being a real person.. ALL WERE DELETED.. that just give me a clue that Rania is not arrested for sure!

  59. Grazia says:

    As for the IP address i am not too surprised that it was different, just few days ago I have received this note through facebook friends to help syrian bloggers

    Dial up access for #Syria: +46850009990 +492317299993 +4953160941030 user:telecomix password:telecomix #syria #killswitch by @telecomix
    ===>share and spread pls!<===

    in order to bypass internet blockage and censorship.

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  61. sheer truth says:

    my question is who is the girl in the photos from the dating website? they are all one person… covering the hair… graduation… and others… and the same picture from the dating website…so who is this girl?

  62. Benjamin says:

    I looked into nasim’s tip about Beka, because Beka is one of two friends on a Hebrew language social networking profile for Amina. The profile appears to have existed since July 2010.

    http://en.netlog.com/aminaarraf

    Nasim pointed me to a comment thread on Rania’s Facebook account where Beka and Rania discuss the engagement of Rania’s cousin.

    http://yfrog.com/h2q7rnp

    Netlog is a European social networking site that supports dozens of languages, including Arabic, English, Turkish and Hebrew. Both Beka and Amina registered using Hebrew as the native language.

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  64. Aaron M says:

    I just noticed that Rania has 207 friends on facebook, instead of 208 like yesterday. It appears Amina’s facebook profile has been deactivated!

  65. Grazia says:

    As a reader of the blog I know that Rania is mentioned sometimes in the stories, as a cousing living in America, not in Syria.

    Then, just an afterthought…if the whole blogger profile is a hoax and no real Amina exist, why also create the cousin Rania on facebook? What is the point? Why faking the interaction with this cousin on facebook posts? She is only relevant now after Amina’s disappearance, no one was really checking all these profiles until days ago…So if she is not real, why create her?

    I would love to know your thoughts on this.

    • Liz Henry says:

      If the blog and Rania are fictional, then creating online profiles and fleshing out the identities of other characters in the blog would create depth for the story.

      A fiction blogger or person living out a persona would need to imagine being that person daily. Living her life, having her memories come to the surface, reacting to the daily news and current politics. Conversations and relationships happening online, say between facebook personas, add to the realism of a fictional situation.

      When dramatic fictional/persona bloggers are trying to get more attention, they sometimes follow a pattern of creating different personas who “pay attention” visibly to the main persona. That draws attention. Even more attention sometimes, if the sub-personas or sockpuppets attack the main persona. That’s not the case here. The online people, or personas, surrounding Amina all seem very loving and accepting of her.

    • Annie says:

      I do not know how related this is..But Rania’s first friend on Facebook was Amina..the post saying Amina and Rania are now friends is now gone. Even if Amina’s facebook has been deleted, the post stating she became friends with someone is not supposed to be gone.. is it ? Do you think Rania deleted that ? Why would she do that though?

      • Violette says:

        And the second friend she added is Katherine Majewski who also seems tied into this somehow, and is suspected to be the “Katy” Amina refers to in her blog.

        • ap says:

          Katherine Majewski has some interesting FB friends…including the fake Bouthaina Shaaban page (?!) and “Sarah Ahmed” whose current profile pic seems to show two girls kissing, and whose activities/interests are all these vaguely porny things about “ladyboys.” Quite a spread.

  66. Grazia says:

    There is a facebook group now discussing Amina’s identity
    http://www.facebook.com/freeamina
    but find the discussion on this blog way more interesting….:-)

  67. LHR says:

    Kristin,

    What, if anything, came of your correspondence with Scott? He has three known connections to Amina:

    1. They were on the Alternate History yahoo group together, and noted by others there are being friends.
    2. As the editor of Bellum, he posted her blog entries, calling her “our correspondent in Syria.”
    3. According to Wikipedia, in a section last edited by “Cunibertus,” she worked for his gaming company, Ad Astra-”credited as “Scenario assistant” in at least two publications: The PostHuman Diaspora. An Optimistic Future by Scott Palter and Saganami Island Tactical Simulator. Ship Book 3. The Short Victorious War” by Ken Burnside and Thomas Pope (2nd edition, 2007)”

    If there was employment, there would have to be an exchange of identifying information.

    • E.F. says:

      Re.: Scott

      Amina and Scott definitely aren’t and never have been married (the very idea was cause for great hilarity on lists we share).

      They do have shared several mailing lists besides the ones already mentioned including a yahoo list (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/thecrescentland/) that Amina was the owner of.

      She’s a webfriend of Amina’s, but has never met her in person to person nor to the best of my knowledge definitive proof of her ‘reality’ beyond several years of online exchanges.

      Scott is a game designer and one partner in a smallish game publishing company. He occassionally picks the brains of his fellowmembers on some of his mailing lists for specialist knowledge when writing material for his games, and acknowledges their contributions with publishing credits as the above (if the help is really significant the freelancer gets recompensed for his effort in gaming swag) so this wasn’t a really formal employment situation.

  68. nasim says:

    ok.. both Amina’s page and “Gay girl in Damascus” pages are gone on facebook!
    I want to add something.. recently, when security arrests someone in Syria the first thing they ask for is the facebook account password.. they usually hack it and play with it!
    eg. they posted a picture of flowers on a detainee’s wall and few days later he arrived dead :( God rest his soul
    another.. eg. my friend Dana, mentioned in a comment above, had a head scarf, and her profile pic was of her with a head scarf.. after she was arrested her profile pic changed into an avatar of a girl in a bikini, and she started friending friends of friends randomly, of course we all blocked her!
    now all I could think of… did security hack the accounts and close them? and then hack the blog and post Rania’s announcement? ! But that doesn’t asnwer any of the previous questions ragarding the fake “stolen” picture.. no number.. no friends.. no family! Usually the first thing an American family does is notify the embassy, because they know only then their loved one would be released and fast!
    plus, if u notice, Rania’s FB account started at the end of January ONLY! and that made me think about something.. at the end of Januay, facebook was no longer blocked in Syria! Does anyone remember when did Amina join facebook?? I know the fb page is gone.. but any idea?

    • Liz Henry says:

      Nasim, I have been wondering about that too. In fact, my first reactions to Rania’s post on Gay Girl in Damascus was to think that Amina had been quite clever in giving trusted people her passwords, so that they could go in and change her passwords if she were detained.

      Facebook will delete accounts without warning if they determine that you are using a false name or aren’t the person you say you are. It’s in their Terms of Service. If they ask (which they don’t always bother to do) for proof of your identity and real name, and you don’t provide it, they will just delete the account. Maybe Facebook will give some statement — when they have in the past taken down activist sites, they have been able to restore them.

      On the other hand, if Amina is not really Amina, she may have decided to take down the page herself and deactivate or delete the account, which I imagine must be a painful decision, to let go of that identity and those friendships or connections.

      If Amina is detained and some Syrian jailer beat her password out of her, and then went on her Facebook account and posted as if he were her cousin, with misinformation about Amina’s real name — Well I have trouble imagining it being quite so subtle. But I suppose it could be possible. A cleverer jailer or intelligence operator would continue posting as her, and try to keep friending people and so on, to gather information. I have trouble constructing a torturer smart enough to fake being Rania and come up with this “non existant name” strategy for discrediting Amina, but NOT clever enough to pretend to be her to gather info on Syrians who might contact her.

    • EDB says:

      Rania joined Facebook in January 2010 not 2011, by the way. And you are right that she has erased the ‘Amina and Rania’ are friends notification on her profile, or perhaps when Amina’s profile was removed, it automatically removes those notifications. And Amina commented on Rania’s profile photo on January 24, 2010 (the day after it was posted) so she has been on Facebook for at least a year and a half as Amina Arraf. I have no doubt that Rania’s profile is fake. Just as a random example click on the profiles of the two people who commented on her profile pic…

      • nasim says:

        just an FYI.. she could’ve changed her name any time after she opened her facebook account, and no one would even notice! A friend of mine keeps changing her name on facebook, for fun reasons.. and every single time… I send her a message asking her who she was.. coz I suddenly find someone I don’t remember friending on facebook!

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  70. Corona says:

    My assumption is that Rania is a married but closeted woman who created Amina as her fantasy identity. I do not think Rania’s profile is of a fake person, because how could a fake person have so many real friends? When you google the name of friends who are affiliated with employers and academic institutions, they seem to be real people. With that said, I checked the name Rania Ismail on Accurint, which is the leading source investigators use to locate people. http://www.accurint.com. No such person shows up. Accurint would show slight differences in spelling. So I cannot be sure.

    • Liz Henry says:

      That seems possible too. But I think it is more likely that fake-Rania friended lots of people, and some of them simply friended her back.

      When people friend me on Facebook and I’m not sure who they are, I look at their profile, see who our mutual friends are, and then deduce the context in which they might have met me. For example anyone who has a certain set of hundreds of mutual friends who appear to be a part of BlogHer (where I work), I will probably friend them because we may have met at a BlogHer conference, they maybe heard me speak or like my writing, I have a bad memory, and I don’t want to be a snob about it, I am friendly. Unless they seem like a random guy who wants to try and date me, I generally friend anyone back. Fake-Rania may have friended people who, like me, are very open with who they connect with on the net.

      • EDB says:

        Many of Rania’s friends are fakes (especially many of the Arabic names, like النمر العراقي العراقي and حبيب روحي), some of them are well-known activists (like Anna Baltzer), and others are people who would agree to be friends with someone who went to the same university (Georgia State.)

  71. nasim says:

    ok.. I just read an interesting comment in Arabic on “Gay girl in Damascus” blog.. a lady.. started by saying..Dear Rania.. oops.. I mean RANA! and then she went on and on about how it’s a propoganda and tHen accused her of being part of Saatchi and Saatchi.. at the end she said.. So, Miss Rana you and your friends will be caught soon, I promis”!
    another interesting comment in Arabic.. trans… “why is Buthaina Shaaban on your friends’ list?”

    • leslie says:

      (COPIED AND PASTED FROM GGID Comments)

      Anonymous said…
      Google translation of previous arabic post..

      Dear Rania, or rather the RNA, it is quite clear the process of fabricating the story of an honest and this method is well known from behind and is funded by the creation of this character .. Anhaab Talmtoha at Saatchi & Saatchi, and I dare you to publish a picture of honest .. Especially you Adeeetm it in the grip of security and that you deploy the image and defend like the girl Almlouhi Tal … Is a story prison Afattm honest because you do not agree on the final pension with the author of the novel and the story … That the girl is a fictional character and essentially non-existent and I’ve played Rana and her friends .. One day it will be shown the game to the public and expose the names and real images to those who are behind the game …

      10 June 2011 06:00
      Anonymous said…
      If this is truly a stunt by an advertising company then shame on all those involved.

      10 June 2011 06:08
      Anonymous said…
      no one is moderating comments, people are just coming back and deleting their own comments.

      10 June 2011 06:11
      Anonymous said…
      So Saatchi & Saatchi is an advertising company. I’m speculating that Anhaab Talmtoha and Adeemt are people that came up with or worked on this blog. The post looks like it came from someone who spend some of their time “playing” rana (raina) or Amina.

      Who/what is “the RNA” that the person speaks of?

      10 June 2011 06:48

      • Benjamin says:

        It’s a really poor machine translation. The word “honest” is used instead of “Amina.” There are no names except Amina mentioned. “Anhaab Talmtoha” is multiple Arabic words run together.

        • Benjamin says:

          Sorry. Amina and Rania/Rana are mentioned, but no other people.

          • Benjamin says:

            sheesh… i should go to bed. Tal Almlouhi is also mentioned. But all I’m saying is this comment needs careful translation, and on first glance, it’s all innuendo.

      • nasim says:

        ok.. here’s my word by word translation… btw.. someone pointed out an interesting point.. Saatchi & Saatchi is an iraqi jewish advertising company based in London.. somehow that takes me back to the Hebrew profiles….anyone tried to look up Amina Arraf’s existance in UK????
        ok.. now, the translation,
        “Dear Rania, or maybe Rana, it’s quite clear that you have fabricated the Amina story and this method is quite well known now, and we all know who’s behind it and who’s funding it! These are games you learned at Saatchi & Saatchi, and I challenge you to show a real picture of Amina. Especially that you have claimed that she was captured by Syrian Security, so you have to publish her photo and defend just like Tal Mallouhy. Did you fabricate the story of the Amina’s kidnapping because you disagreed on the final pension for the author of Amina’s story? This character is a fabricated character and Rana and her friends played this game. And the day of exposing your game will come soon and the public will come to know the real names and the real pictures of the people behind this game”
        I must say.. I wish this person was not anonymous on the blog! any way we can track who posted this comment??

      • nasim says:

        RNA.. is Rana.. and apparently according the comment.. Rania doesn’t exist.. Rana does! Rania=Rana

  72. Mark says:

    Rebekah Rojano is shown in Netlog as being from Quintano Roo (in the Yucatan area of Mexico). She also has a Linked In profile, or actually a couple of them, one based in Merida (also in the Yucatan) and one based in Oaxaca. Both indicate that the person works for Seasons Vacation Club, so they are presumably the same person. I *think* the URL for that club is http://www.seasonsholidays.com/.

    There is also a “Rebekah Rojano” and a “Rebekah Kathyrn Rojano” with several Ohio connections, supposedly graduating from Northmont High School in Clayton, Ohio in 1998 (and joining classmates.com in September 2009). This Ohio Rebekah is the same age (31) as the Mexico Rojano, so I’m assuming it may be the same person.

    If I were a private eye, I’d try to track down Rojano (among other things).

    • nasim says:

      if you look at Rania’s page.. she had “like”d a page called support Gay marriage in Ohio!! hmm.. ???? Beka lives in Ohio! Rania doesn’t!

      • Liz Henry says:

        I noticed that about the Gay marriage in Ohio! But didn’t connect it with Beka.

        You all are excellent private eyes, I think!

        At this point we need a wiki or Etherpad or something for group editing and to organize all this information and all these theories. Perhaps a shared Google doc would be simplest.

    • leslie says:

      there was a telephone number for ‘rebecca rojano’ on a canadian site which listed telemarketers…. it regarded travel sales in mexico….

      • Mark says:

        That site listed Rebecca Rojano as supposedly being from Niagra, Canada, and living in Mexico after marrying someone from Mexico. Don’t know if any of this is real or related, but wasn’t there a lot in the news about Amina having a close friend in Canada?

  73. libby says:

    Have been following this and can provide another Edinburgh connection to a Scottish dating site – where her profile says that she lives in Edinburgh and uses the supposed ‘fake photos’ of Lecic. Her profile name is “AAA” and says she was last active a month ago.

    http://www.areyouinterested.com/singles/amina51256395397/101347744/profile.html

    T

    • Anna says:

      As she inquired about universities within the UK in Feb (and was apparently accepted to three), could she have been preparing for a future move to Edinburgh by setting this profile up?

  74. Corona says:

    Rebekah Kathryn Rojano lives at
    [[addresses removed by request -- liz ]]
    Addresses in Dayton, OH and Humble, TX.

    • leslie says:

      Scott Palter-

      Do these addresses match any you have used to send mail to Amina?

      • scott palter says:

        What addresses. Send to me and I will try to verify. She used so many of them but then I probably have over 40 addresses and use a dozen regularly.

    • Liz Henry says:

      I missed this last night – but in this case I think it’s a false lead and don’t want to publish the addresses. Sorry Corona! I do think it’s good to share information but this seems just too peripheral.

  75. Bob says:

    I’m not really sure it’s appropriate for you to post that person’s home address.

  76. leslie says:

    it also appears that the other friend from netlog, May Perez has a twitter…. http://twitter.com/#!/May_Mp74

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  79. June says:

    I want to paste here a comment of someone who has also tracked down Amina’s friends on another blog. Please note what he says at the beginning: most people calling for demonstrations in Syria in February and March were almost ALL non-Syrians. About 10 Syrian exiles were able to make enough noise to get al Jazeera and the Western press call for the end of what they think was the last Soviet empire. Not to say that elections are not needed, but a real opposition starts with a project, and not by sending kids to attack public buildings. Sorry for his language.

    “I had been monitoring the Revolution page ever since February, when protests were supposed to happened, but didn’t. Back then, they never hid the user list. Suffice to say, many of the names and their pictures were not Arabic. They were American, Canadian, European, Israeli, etc. There were Arabic people, and I made sure to click one every single profile I saw. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. Was non-Syrian. Most were from Egypt and Lebanon.

    I’m starting to think that maybe the slut girl in Damascus was Jelena Lecic all along. I found and checked out Jelena’s Facebook profile, and went down to the section where you can see what groups and pages she belongs to. Some of the groups are lesbian ones. In fact, here are 2 groups she is part of:

    http://www.facebook.com/llgff

    http://www.facebook.com/OpenCityLondon

    They are London-based Facebook groups. Now, I find it hard to believe that this Amina character just used any random set of photographs she could find on the Internet, and landed herself a Lesbian, just like her. Amina either knew Jelena, or she IS Jelena. Jelena is also in a couple “Free Amina” groups. One must wonder, did she join these groups AFTER she found out her pictures were being used, or did she join them BEFORE, which would make her statement of not knowing about Amina a LIE. Also, why would someone join a group dedicated to a likely fictional person, especially one who stole your identity?

    Here is Jelena’s Facebook profile:

    http://www.facebook.com/Jelena74

    Now let us look at Rania Ismail, the supposed cousin of Amina:

    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000718057081

    Looking at her profile, you see a Muslim girl, covered, and inside Saudi Arabia of all countries, as evidenced by the Kabaa in the background.

    She is married, with children, and is a homemaker. She studied at Georgia State University. Looking further down, you will notice that she is interested in men AND WOMEN. Go to the section where it shows what Facebook groups she is, and most of them are LESBIAN groups.

    Let us recap what we know. We have a lesbian girl in Damascus who stole photographs of ANOTHER, supposedly ‘random,’ lesbian living in London who claims to not know anything of Amina, yet has joined groups dedicated to this person who has stolen her identity, and Amina’s cousin is married, with children, but she is a lesbian who has visited Saudi Arabia at least once, and most of the Facebook groups she has joined are about lesbians.

    Now combine this with what we have learned already from others. No one, not even her ‘close friends,’ not even her girlfriend in Canada, have ever met Amina in person. The girlfriend claims she used to chat with Amina often, and that she had over 500 e-mails from her, but now she ‘lost’ them. We have not seen a real picture of Amina, not from her, not from her cousin, not from her girlfriend, not from anyone. She was using stolen images of someone else, and was in a relationship with the Canadian girl, which makes you question how authentic this relationship really was. There are absolutely no records of a person named Amina, nor anything of her family, in Syria OR in the US. No one can get a hold of Amina’s cousin, plus so many more mysteries.

    I’m sorry, but there is just too much evidence suggesting that she is a hoax. I mean, honestly, 4 lesbians, one being a girlfriend that has never met Amina nor ever seen what she looked like, and has conveniently lost all the e-mails between her. Another being a girl from London who had her photos stolen, and did not know who Amina was, yet nonetheless joins Facebook groups dedicated to the person who stole her photos. Then we have Amina’s Lesbian cousin who is married with children yet seems to be more interested in women then anything else, and has been to Saudi Arabia, and nobody can get a hold of her at all. Then there is Amina, an American-born girl living in Damascus whom no one has ever seen, nor can her parents be contacted, or any family member for that matter, and no country even has a record of her or her family ever existing??? This is silly.

    Here is ‘Amina’ posting a message on her ‘cousin’s’ Saudi Arabia picture:

    http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=100318590002076&set=a.147991368568131.20905.100000718057081&type=1&theater

    Amina says simply, “Wow!” Rania only has 3 profile pictures. One is of an actual person in Saudi Arabia. The other 2 are both the same picture of Arabic writing. All 3 pictures were uploaded on January 23, 2010. This was around the time when the first revolutions were beginning.

    The only people in this debacle that we know for sure exist, are Sandra Bagaria, who is the supposed girlfriend of Amina, and Jelena Lecic, whose pictures were ’stolen’ by Amina. Perhaps they are both in this together.”

    • Liz Henry says:

      There is a lot that is offensive in that person’s comment. They don’t seem to think that bisexual women exist, they are rude to Jelena, and so on. When they say “there is just too much evidence suggesting that she is a hoax. I mean, honestly, 4 lesbians…” they certainly seem to think 4 is too many to be possible in any context. I will leave the comment up for now, though it is wildly homophobic.

    • Violette says:

      Putting the homophobic theme of this comment aside, let me just address two things.

      1) It is possible that Rania put “Male and Female” as who she was interested in for friendship. She clearly states that she is a married woman and probably wouldn’t do so if she was interested in pursuing a relationship via facebook. Many attached people, myself included, put that they are interested in both men and women – not because we are bi, but because we are interested in being friend with both.

      2) If I were Jelena Lecic, I would probably also join those “Free Amina” groups to try to ascertain as much as possible about the person who stole my identity. As a matter of fact, I would be scouring these comments to try to find out information since I would be unfortunately tied to this whole thing, and would love to know who was responsible or what the outcome was.

  80. leslie says:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=1avwAAAAMAAJ&q=lips&dq=inauthor:%22Samar+Attar%22&source=gbs_word_cloud_r&cad=5

    On the GGID comments someone accussed her of using material from this book. many of the names of characters are the same…

    • mischi says:

      interesting! for those who don’t know, samar attar is very well know for playing with the genre of autobiography (she has even written scholarly articles on the history and implications of autobiographical stylings). She also self-translated the novel “Lina” from arabic to english, giving it another layer of complexity.

      I would not be surprised that someone who wanted to pretend to write in an autobiographical style would ripe off (or perhaps just be “inspired”?) by Samar Attar?

      • nasim says:

        Attar?? didn’t “Amina” claim that she is related to Najah Al Attar? underline Attar!

        • mischi says:

          good point! also, did anyone else notice that on her original blog (aminaarraf.blogspot.com) she said she was working on a novel titled “A Thousand Sighs and a Sigh” — which, in retrospect not surprisingly, is ALSO the subtitle to one of her first blog entries on “GGID”: http://damascusgaygirl.blogspot.com/2011/02/thousand-sighs-and-sigh-arab-american.html

          I think this person thought they were working on a novel the whole time…

          • libby says:

            There’s one thing that can’t be denied – whoever was posting in the Alt history forums knew what they were talking about and had a distinctive linguistic background.

            It is intersting that in is that Atta’s novel – Lina chose to flee Syria and indeed Atta herself left Syria for the US, Canada etc herself.

            Amina in direct contrast to this has come from the US and has taken a deliberate stance of ‘staying in Syria’.

            In many ways the story itself reads like an alternative history of ‘what if’: What would have happened if Lina had not left but had stayed and taken up the fight?

            Both Amina and Atta are linguists who teach Arabic and English and are interested in biographical writing about young women in Damascus (although in different times)

            Interesting parallels.

    • Liz Henry says:

      I ordered the book used, but it is in many libraries — including the U.C. Berkeley library. Check WorldCat.org with your location to see if Lina: Portrait of a Damascene Girl is in a library near you. If someone goes and looks it up today, it might be illuminating!

    • Liz Henry says:

      From Arab women writers: a critical reference guide, 1873-1999, By Raḍwá ʻĀshūr, Ferial Jabouri Ghazoul, Hasna Reda-Mekdashi

      If Hayfa’ Bitar gives the reader a broken woman who rejects and simultaneously engages in social hypocrisy, Samar Attar, in Lina: lawhat fatah Dimashqiya (Lina: A Portrait of a Damascene Girl) 1982, portrays a girl who belongs to the Damascus bourgeoisie of the 1950s, but rejects its morals as she rejects everything in her country: men, Eastern traditions, religion, political parties, the military, university, family restrictions, friendship, and the nation. She also rejects violence of all types, particularly emotional violence, which wears many different disguises and which she doubts will disappear. As a result, she leaves for the West, to be able to express herself with the freedom she desires, without coercion or restrictions. Following James Joyce, she says, “I refuse to serve that which I don’t believe in, whether it is my family, my friends, my country. I’ll try the impossible to express myself the way I want, with the freedom I see fit.” The heroine refuses to bow her head like other girls and submit to majority opinion, no matter what it is, if it is not compatible with her own free thought.

      Lina is almost unique in the Syrian women’s novel. She does not reject part of the nation, but all of it, dreaming of a Utopian city that can realize the spiritual and mental advancement of the individual. It remains a dream, however, because she does not move toward it, but away from it when she decides to leave and stop taking action, choosing instead to wait passively for the future. Unlike other heroines, Lina does not see herself as uniquely beautiful, intelligent, or talented; she sees herself as unique because she was created in a time and place that are not her own. Those like her, who are capable of change, have not yet been born, and so she is angry at everything in the city that is not like her.

  81. EDB says:

    Also for what it’s worth, Amina Arraf’s old blog (http://aminaarraf.blogspot.com/) which she had no reason to give ‘Cousin Rania’ access to, was modified twice since Amina’s alleged abduction. If you go on the site, right click and ‘View page info’, it tells you that it was last modified yesterday…

    • Liz Henry says:

      Oh, good idea. That is really indicative. I just looked, and it ws last modified June 10, 2011 12:47:09 AM . I wonder what details the writer has changed or deleted? Perhaps those details are significant.

    • Liz Henry says:

      Actually, it might not show anything. All the pages were updated at 12:47. That looks to me more like there is some automatically generated element on the page that Blogger/blogspot updates at night. I could be wrong, though.

  82. libby says:

    Can you post the actual comment from the GGID blog re: the accusation using material the Samar Attar book?

  83. mischi says:

    BREAKTHROUGH!

    I found the guy (yes, I think its a guy) who started GGID:

    http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=cache%3Ahttp%3A%2F%2Fshackson.wordpress.com%2F2011%2F05%2F06%2Fdamascus-girl%2F

    “I consider myself a man of the world. I travel extensively. I know more about world events than most people (actually let’s make that nearly all people.) Additionally I consider myself both just and brave in my actions. I stand by my convictions and only last month I participated in a protest march in London to indicate my displeasure with the current government’s actions.

    However it is easy for me to be so pious in a country that allows me to express dissent. Additionally how much do we take for granted that we can easily meet and criticise our political leaders without come-back, even in a mass rally. I wonder if I could be so brave in a country were I not afforded the right to do those actions which I take so granted.

    Recently (as within the last 24 hours) I have started following the blog of a very brave and interesting woman in Syria who has none of those luxuries that allow me to be an informed “dissident.” She is actively participating in the on-going protests against the regime that are now largely being ignored by the western media. We have lost interest in the “Arab Uprising” in the light of a royal wedding and Osama bin Laden being killed. However across the Arab world in places like Libya and Syria people still aspire to have revolutions that overthrow corrupt regimes and enjoy that which we take for granted and while NATO and the West is taking a role in Libya, the uprising in Syrian is largely being ignored.

    http://damascusgaygirl.blogspot.com/ is a blog by a very brave woman who is a “minority” in every sense of the word in Syria. She is a woman, part-American, Sunni and a Lesbian. These all have various degrees of disadvantage in the society in which she lives and I leave it to others to decide which cause her the most disadvantage. Add to that combination that she is also actively participating in protests and you can see why I admire her so much.

    In any case I suggest you follow the link and follow her blog. I hope she and her people achieve the aspirations that we take for granted here in the UK and Australia.”

  84. mischi says:

    This guy, “Shackson,” apparently wrote about starting GGID on his blog on wordpress. But the blog was recently removed, so I had to access it via google cache.

    I got to his blog by doing a lot of searches for “damascus girl,” and came up with this: http://brokencontrollers.com/damascus-girl-laquo-shackson-s-blog-t28007212.php

    Thank goodness for google cache!

  85. mischi says:

    no. strike that. i was so eager i thought he said he “started” the blog, but on second read it says he “follows the blog.” just ignore everything above.

  86. Confused! says:

    it’s all very strange, and it’s no more a sympathy issue with someone who has been abducted or kidnapped.. i have few points but before that please check again the Quiz at Rania’s facebook page and notice her photo and notice the women in the background (this is not in syria and not in the US) it is in Saudi or a Gulf country and that might go along with her profile picture in Mecca and supports what one girl argued with her that she went to Hajj and they were discussing being with or aginst gay marriage.. although that’s not our point now but the girl discussing with her might be a cyber facebook friend or (if Rania is real) then she might know her well.. but what if Rania or who ever is runnign her facebook profile is also using fake photos of some girl living in the Gulf?
    for your information, being open about sexuality issues in the Arab & Muslim worlds is not as easy as you think, although there might be thousands of supporters but they won’t go very public about it with their real names and real photos..
    I am not sure about Saatchi and Saatchi trick! but when looking at Rania’s facebook friends (as someone mentioned earlier) they have some fake names written in arabic and translation is (iraqi) (iraqi guy) etc.. and looking at the origings of Saatchi you may be interested in checking wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maurice_Saatchi,_Baron_Saatchi
    this might add to the use of Hebrew as the Netlog profile language.. ??

    now there are some very important points, security servies in Syria are surely keeping their arrests and killings as secret as possible and that’s why they keep manipulating the numbers and facts on media.. so the thought that they might hack the profile and post as Rania to tell people about yet another thing that would get people more furious about them is impossible.. let alone that the whole story of arrest is absurd.. and that eye witness that rania mentioned in the details of the kidnapping would have spoken at least to people around her/him, such stories spread magically in the community by words of mouth, so how come no one said a word about it..
    i know many liberals and activists in syria and they never ever met or come in contact with amina.. i think people who are wasting time in this will realize it all started to look very irrational.. no one likes to be tricked.. there might be an amina who posted those dating profiles and then someone used that existing dating profile (which itself might be fake) to come with this fictional blog.. pfffft!
    these are just thoughts..

  87. Grazia says:

    Just to summarize the findings so far:

    In all the previous activities on the internet (before GGID) there is a woman called Amina on several dating and social sites, contributing with articles on yahoo groups and working on collecting ideas for a novel on a blog.

    The information we can gather from all these sites are consistent.
    The person describe herself:
    - Syrian-American
    – from Atalanta,Georgia – born 12/10/1975
    - went to Parkview High school in Lilburn from 1992 to 1995
    - went to Georgia State University grad. on 2007
    - Member of Greek Lambda Sigma
    - Master Degree in Applied Linguistics (same University)
    - She lists both several towns in America and Damascus as her places.
    - She is divorced – no children
    - She is Muslim
    - She is bisexual or (more recently) gay -on dating sites she is looking for women
    - She is working in Education and Translations as linguist
    - Interest is writing, languages and history
    - The pictures on dating and social sites are showing the same person (before Jelena Lecic)
    - On the NW dating site there is a picture of her with veil – note to the picture says that she use to cover her head for a while. This is also mentioned in the GGID blog, post “Our veil, our choice”.

    There are way more information on all these sites and I am not listing them all in this post, but I am preparing a comparison chart.
    What I find extremely interesting is that all these sites before GGID are obviously showing a person that had no need to conceil her identy more than necessary precautional measures because the only scope of these pages was dating or work (dating sites, linkedin,myspace etc.)
    So before the serious commitment of discussing about Syrian politics and freedom issues she was on the internet like any of us would, and I think these profiles are real.
    Something happens when starting the political syrian debate and she takes another persona, or she has to modify somehow her apperance (picture taken from Jelena Lecic) and maybe also change her name (before the disappearance she was signing her articles either as Amina A. or as Amina Abdallah – the name Amina Arraf was mentioned by the news).
    What I find hard to understand is why she start using Jelena Lecic pictures also on dating sites (the one in Scotland) or when interacting with new friends (Sandra Bagaria claims she has received Jelena Lecic pictures).

    Overall I still think that we are talking of a real person that has left numerous traces on the internet over the years. When she started the blog GGID and also writing on lezgetreal.com as a syrian-lesbian commentator she had to make several changes. What it is left on the internet cannot be changed though.

    • H says:

      I just want to add a few details about comparing Rania and Amina’s writing styles. I am an editor so used to seeing the minor differences and styles that set two people’s writing apart. What struck me about Rania’s blog entries is that they are similar in style and use of punctuation to Amina’s. However, this needs closer inspection. One area in which people differ when writing Arabic names or words in English is the use of ‘al’ meaning ‘the’. Some people write it as el, some as al, some capitalise the A or the E, some run the word al into the following word. Rania and Amina both use ‘al’ standing alone. Another point where people’s writing styles differ can be numbers – written as numerals or spelled out as words. Some people know to use words for under 10 and numerals for over, some use words for all, some use numerals for all. Rania and Amina both use numerals. Use of commas is another area where people differ. Rania and Amina are both very precise in their use of commas. Rania and Amina are also very precise in their use of capitalisation. Both are writers that give very precise attention to such details – another example, use of the apostrophe in 20′s from Rania and 1970’s from Amina – not everyone does this.

      And, on another note, Rania posts Amina’s full name and asks people to contact her father and gives his name. There would be no reason to ask people to do this if these were pseudonyms as it would have no logical point (here, I am trying to disprove the ‘she was using a pseudonym for safety’s sake’ theory) – so following on from that, if, as it seems likely, the name/s are false, this also points to the story itself entered by Rania being false.

    • EDB says:

      Amina started using Jelena’s pictures a year before beginning the GGID blog and before discussing Syrian politics. In fact, Jelena has said that she alerted Facebook a year ago that Amina Abdullah was using her photos and they deleted her profile, only for her to resurface as Amina Arraf.

      • harriet_the_spy says:

        How on earth would Jelena have known that Amina was using her photo on her Facebook profile? There are millions of profiles on Facebook; there could be hundreds using my photo right now. What are the chances that I would ever run across that profile?

        But really, the number one biggest most important clue here is the following: someone is deleting comments from the GGID site. People are posting things, including saying that the blog could have been inspired by “Lina: Portrait of a Damascus Girl.”

        So the question is…who would be deleting comments like that? Someone who wants to keep a lie sounding like the truth, or someone who wants the truth to sound like a lie? If Amina is real and captured by the Syrian authorities, they would have every reason to want to have doubts about her existence. But if Amina is fake – either put up by someone as an artistic practice, or Amina herself trying to attract attention by planting a story that she was captured, or, a fake blog put together by, say, the CIA or some such to get Americans more riled up about about the Syrian revolution and want to be involved– that party would want to delete any comments that point to Amina being less than genuine. It would be possible to do a test of this, of course. Post various comments under different names and see which are deleted, and which stay. Either way, someone is actively monitoring the site.

        • EDB says:

          That’s a good question and one I posed, too, until some of my friends were discussing Amina on FB before Jelena gave that interview, and a friend of a friend wrote: That’s a photo of my friend’s ex-girlfriend in London! There are, of course, autobiographical similarities between Jelena and Amina, too. I’ve lost track at this point if those are public or not…

        • Liz Henry says:

          I really hope that soon the person monitoring those pages and deleting comments, who surely is the writer of Amina’s blog and also Rania, could have the heart to confess it was a persona in public, at the very least, to reassure the many people who care about her that she is not dead or detained. She might also advise her friends and fans and people acting to help her, to redirect their energies to some good cause. Then bow out.. and build her life a bit differently and more wisely. I understand their motivation might be to avoid being outed; maintaining that Amina exists might seem to avoid that. I think not, though, and it might be possible to come clean without revealing one’s real identity. I would respect that.

          • Ladidahhhh says:

            I just wonder….why post about detention? Detention is, by its nature, verifiable and bureaucratic. People have friends and families from whom they are missing and jailers/security services holding them. Syrian security may not be the neatest bureaucracy to ever exist, but it’s not going to be confused about whether it actually arrested/abducted this person. Young woman Syrian leftists have been taken by the security services (usually a week or two later.) the security services are aware of who they observe. the state department is aware of us citizens in syria. Why would anyone make up one of the most easily verifiable/disprovable stories?? Did they want to come clean, is this all a story about the appeal of the Western-friendly “exotic” and a call to be more skeptical?

  88. Grazia says:

    Sorry for grammar mistakes, I am not english native…:-)

  89. Confused! says:

    what if it’s indeed all part of a novel?
    Samar Attar experimenting on spontaneous incidents of the daily life that lead her character Amina (who might be inspired by the real lesbian Amina who have many dating profiles or might have done that in agreement with her)… it’s all so confusing and truth is the victim here

  90. Grazia says:

    @Confused
    If this was just a creative experiment of a writer, using the real profile of someone called Amina on dating profiles, don’t you think that the real Amina would come out and protest for her stolen identity? (Just like Jelena Lecic)

    • Confused! says:

      let’s assume that there was a real girl who made those dating profiles, might not be named Amina in real but would use the name just as using Jelena’s picture.. but my point is, the blog could be written by someone else, who might even plotted this with the other girl with dating profiles which helps to creat his/her fictional character and links it to a real personality.. the other girl might have liked the idea since it references her story and thoughts..
      again those are just assumptions.. but the writer of that blog is certainly not taken by the syrian security forces.. since no one has managed to find out the real writer behind the blog at the first place.. believe me those security forces don’t have the capabilities to track that writer who is obviously writing from outside syria..

  91. of concern says:

    seems like far too many investigators here. are you all looking for your 5 minutes of fame? could your energies better applied elsewhere if you are concerned about human rights abuses in Syria? I think posting the digital trail of Amina & anyone associated with her is extremely spurious.

    • Liz Henry says:

      I do feel many people’s time is being spent on this, but it is important to know with certainty whether Amina exists or not.

      The person writing as Amina may also need support and help, but of a different kind than international activism!

      I think the investigation and discussion is worthwhile, anyway.

    • Grazia says:

      I don’t think it’s a wastful excercise, some of us have been following the blog and the syrian revolt for months. I hope you can understand that there is also concern about someone that could be in danger, despite all the oddities of the case.

  92. Ladidahhh says:

    Amina’s politics, stances, comments, seem to be more Arab American than Arab – for Amina to “one day dream of being Syria’s ambassador in Tel Aviv” while writing in support of the revolution – is something that most Syrian activists – particularly those who write in support of the protests in al Jolan/the Golan – would absolutely not do, painting oneself as an advocate of normalization and linking the Syrian revolution to the idea of rapprochement with Israel. And most sectors of the Syrian opposition who are OK with such a position – would not also support the June 5 protests by Palestinians in Syria at the border.

    However, Arab Americans, born in and living in the States? These political shades and semi contradictions are a lot more common. But there’s no way someone who’s going to meetings – to plan actions in Syria – is writing on her blog about dreaming to be an ambassador to Tel Aviv. It’s just an extremely off note.

    (This note has sparked a lot of speculation, BTW, about Amina as a potential creation of an intelligence agency, pressure group, etc – Israeli, U.S., Syrian, whatever ,but IMO, Amina writes well and passionately, more like a novelist than an agent. And this particular bit is someone getting the politics wrong while thinking s/he sounds awesome to their English language reading friends by taking a sort of middle path that *sounds* middle in the US or Europe for a Syrian activist, but that doesn’t seem “middle” at all for a Syrian activist in Syria.

    • Shax says:

      Totally agree with the above points. I also have a friend who confirmed to me that they have chatted in Arabic. Amina didn’t write a lot about Israel, but when she did there were some inconsistencies in her positions, sometimes appearing quite anti-zionist other times a peace-campy type of zionist.

  93. harriet_the_spy says:

    My link drop:
    More about blogger tal:
    http://www.cpj.org/2011/02/syrian-blogger-sentenced-to-five-years-in-prison.php
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12460163
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tal_al-Mallohi
    Although these links state that Tal was sentenced in February of 2001, they do not say whether she is alive or dead. In any case, Tal’s was a huge story in Syria. It never got much traction outside of syria, though, and maybe that is because all of her blogs are in arabic?
    What’s important to note is that Amina’s blog started exactly in February, 2011.

    US government “sock puppet” initiative:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/mar/17/us-spy-operation-social-networks

    http://www.crunchgear.com/2011/03/17/u-s-military-program-creates-online-sock-puppets-to-counter-%E2%80%98enemy-propaganda%E2%80%99/

    And then the one tweet i read t yesterday that I keep thinking of,, “GGID blog was designed like a honeytrap for Western progressives. “

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  95. EDB says:

    To add another (useless) layer of conspiracy to all this: do you think that Amina/Rania may be contributing to discussions about her on the Facebook group or here? How could she stop herself?

  96. Grazia says:

    I have just remember this (pointless) bit of imformation. About two weeks ago I have sent a message to Amina via her blog in which I was asking if it was possible to contact her, or being contacted by her, without having to leave my email amongst all the other messages. I got no answer to that ans I have completely forgotten the thing.
    The very day I knew about her disappearance I also apprehended that she had a facebook account, so I went on facebook to check it.
    I then found in my private messages a message from Amina’s facebooka account saying “Where you trying to reach me?” but it was dated days before even if I have just received it in that moment. She knew how to find me on fb because I was a follower of her blog with my complete name.

  97. harriet_the_spy says:

    Found this by Samar Attar, on her novel “Lina: A Portrait of a Damascene Girl.”

    Exchanging One Prison Cell for Another

    At the end of my novel Lina: A Portrait of a Damascene Girl ( Lina: Lawhat Fatat Dimashqiya), which was published in Beirut in 1982 but not allowed to be sold in any Arab country, Lina came to the conclusion that if she stayed in Syria she would be killed, imprisoned, or at best rot like the rest of her people. She chose exile as an alternative space of freedom, rejecting her family, friends, and country. “I will try the impossible,” she said to her distraught friend Amal, “to express myself the way I want, with the freedom I see fit. I won’t be able to do that unless I run away from you” (Attar 1994, 212). We don’t know what happened to Lina in exile. The novel ends before her departure from Damascus. But we share with her the vision that motivates her to fly away from home. We imagine the goldsmith she describes as a god working freely without any fetters. [End Page 150]

    “Goodbye,” said Lina. “Goodbye,” said Amal.

    In the shadow of the trees, Lina saw the pale face of her friend, her dejected eyes.

    Were they destined to leave as strangers?

    The sun began to set on the foot of the mountain. From the city minarets, the voices of the muezzins grew louder, calling people for prayer. What was waiting for her in exile? She raised her head to the sky and gazed at those frail birds rising and falling. Suddenly she wanted to run and run. Through the faint light she saw the deserted lane become a silver vault, then the image of the goldsmith in the gold bazaar came to her, and she heard his file across the years, frail and faint like the rustle of the trees, the murmur of the
    —–
    okay, this is just too much of a coincidence, isn’t it? i mean, the bird thing? etc?

  98. ap says:

    Are folks here aware that Just News International, the supposed publicity agency hired by Jelena Lecic, doesn’t appear to exist in any meaningful way?

    This is their home page: http://www.justnewsinternational.com/

    Google search for any combination of Julian Just, Kim Grahame, Just News International…and the only relevant hits are related to Jelena Lecic. As though JNI was created specifically to deal with this incident.

    Very odd, indeed.

  99. click here says:

    Hi all,

    I’ve been following the fascinating comments here since Liz’s article was posted, as well as on Twitter.

    Anyone see this?

    @lezgetreal: An Apology To Our Readers About Amina Abdallah http://nblo.gs/iZhIM

    Seems to claim that Amina is in Scotland. (The GGID blogger was in contact with the LGR blog for some time, and wrote with/for them, too.)

    • Mark says:

      They say she is a 35-year-old living in Edinburgh. That would be the same age as the woman who called herself “Amina Arraf” and who received the MA in Applied Linguistics from Georgia State in 2007. Likely the same person.

      So, somebody who was born in Atlanta, got an MA from Georgia State in 2007, then moved to Edinburgh sometime after that for personal or professional reasons…?

      • Eli says:

        It doesn’t seem like they have any more information than we do, though. We already knew that she was 35 (according to her), and we already knew that her IP was in Edinburgh — LezGetReal always knew that, but she explained it away by saying that she was using a proxy for security reasons.

        If you look at the comments, that seems to be the information they’re basing their statements on.

  100. harriet_the_spy says:

    yeah, something about the Jelena thing seems really suspect to me.

    who is this person:
    http://www.myspace.com/jelena.lecic/photos

    and this person:
    http://rs.linkedin.com/pub/jelena-lecic/1a/410/209

    note: no mole!

    http://www.writingintheraw.com/diary/1089/how-many-ls-are-there-in-gullible

  101. ap says:

    A-ha. By searching the listed phone number (845 388 5814), I got their parent site:
    http://www.justassociate.com/

    • libby says:

      I did a whois search on justassociate.com and the site has been registered for some time and is registered to peter julian just.

      When you do an internet archive search though it shows that when it was last crawled (early May) the site was still under construction.

      It is obvious that the website has been cobbled together petty hastily in the last little while.

  102. nasim says:

    I just had a thought.. maybe the plan was for Amina to be released shortly after her arrest, and then deported to the U.S. And, then and only then, she could have her 10 years of fame lol! Because, if you notice in the last post by “Rania” she states that if she is released, she might have to leave the country to the U.S, right away! So maybe, they were planning for that to happen…(even though) she was in the U.S all along! And then and only then she would uncover that she had had a different name and a different picture for security reasons! And voila.. we have a famous writer!
    However, the plan has gone wrong.. and now the creators of this “Amina” are struggling!
    ok.. even the origional plan was dumb, because wouldn’t the authorities in the U.S know if she was in the U.S all along and never went anywhere.. hmm.. ok… the writer sure seems smarter than that! any ideas about this idea? what was the “plan” do you think it went wrong.. or do you think the plan for all this to happen?? and then watch everyone struggling looking for Amina the Fake!?

  103. nasim says:

    One more thought… I was thinking the other day, how did Amina predict the Syrian revolution? was she part of provoking it? was she part of lighting up the first flame?? She started her blog saying that there are hopes of a revolution; even though, the first protest ever started on March 15…But her blog was started in February! Well I was wrong, the facebook page that started the revolution in Syria started Feb 9 … which means GGID blog started about 13 days after the revolution page…

    • June says:

      The Feb9 meeting in Damascus called for on FB got 50 people who all knew each other. Little people were using FB in Syria. It was possible to use it before it was legalized, using proxy anonymizers very easily from any cyber cafes but people were few to use FB.
      The guy who launched the FB page is an Islamist in Sweden, but the guys who turned up in Damascus on Feb9 were elite leftists.
      http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/?p=9340
      (about the Swedih guy)
      So indeed, Amina was amon the people used to reach to a large audience and ignitiate fire in the international community.
      People were also demonstrating in Sudan, Bahrain, Yemen and Morocco, but they didn’t get as much attention.

      [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ’0 which is not a hashcash value.

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  105. mischi says:

    fyi did anyone check out the comments section of the article that was published today claiming an Edinburgh connection? (see: http://www.scotsman.com/news/Hit-Syrian-blog-39by-.6782807.jp)

    One of the commentators claims he has a hunch he knows who the blogger is:

    “I have an inkling as to who this might be.
    How are your azaleas miss Arraf?”

    • Caoimhe Snow says:

      “Azaleas” seems to be a running joke by that commenter on that site. I wouldn’t read much into it.

  106. Interested Reader says:

    I think those who suggested the connection between alternative history, Lina’s book, and the blog have the best clue into this now mystery.
    Other similarities between the two are that both have “Damascus Girl” in them, and that Lina and Amina rhyme the same way.

    Another interesting factor is the spelling of Amina’s name. Her name is more commonly spelled as, assuming it’s true, Aminah Abdullah. You can find many people with the name Aminah Abdullah online. There is also a PO Box number for one in Georgia. But I checked the PO Box number and it is now assigned to a business. But the PO Box number could be where she received mail.

  107. Anonymous says:

    many detail worthy of comments
    how to do it anonymously?
    examples of Arabic writing inconsistencies, revealing

  108. Anonymous says:

    who is central contact to investigate, liz or carvin?
    what is a good way to provide examples of errors in arabic writing on blog?

    • Liz Henry says:

      Hi there, Andy Carvin probably has more resources and people for investigating things than I do, but you can certainly feel free to post examples here in comments. A good way might be to put them in a Google Doc, or other repository, and then link to it from here. That way you could get comments from others in a public forum.

      • Anonymous says:

        investigate why there is a link from amina’s fb page and rania’s fb page to a page about Bouthaina Shaaban. also please alert carvin to same. bouthaina s. page had privacy settings modified recently to block photo views

  109. antoine says:

    I’m just passing by to thank Liz for her incredible work on this issue and for her patience as well. Thanks Liz.

    ( This had to be said )

  110. Oscar says:

    In over 130 ‘Tweets’ to the people who helped to launch her onto an unsuspecting world, she was only ever allocated two different IP addresses: 188.74.64.53 and 188.74.110.134, both from the ISP Keycom PLC – and neither of which is available as a proxy IP.

    She is bogus, 100% bogus – none of her postings are from Syria. And it’s a good bet that her blog’s sock-puppets have been posting from the same IPs.

    • Interested Reader says:

      Interesting info. How did find her IP? Also could it be possible that she was using a VPN server, which would allow her to connect to a server to Edinburgh?

    • Mark says:

      I have the same question. First, how do you know they are not available as a proxy? And does that also mean they are not available via VPN?

      • Ain says:

        There are online Proxy Checkers available that allow you to enter an IP Address and check to see if a Proxy is running on the entered IP, and no, a VPN is *not* being used in this case, the ISP that the IP’s belong to are a provider of Wi-Fi Hotspot services to businesses., and do not offer any VPN services.

        (When you use a VPN provider, the IP’s will resolve to that provider)

  111. libby says:

    If we accept that there is a Scottish link, then it is only natural to look to Scotland for some further clue to motivation.

    There has been for some time a fairly high profile case surrounding the deportation of a Gay Syrian man from Scotland back to Syria.

    http://scotlandonsunday.scotsman.com/glasgow/Gay-Syrian-waits-for-asylum.4071539.jp

    Of course the case will rest on whether he will be ‘safe’ if he is returned and will be obviously a question that will be hotly contested.

    The final appeal is due to be heard this week.

    The question of the nature of the danger of being Gay in Syria at the moment is therefore a very ‘real life’ issue; and whether there is a real person in Syria behind the GGID blog may have much wider implications and be more disturbing.

  112. Mark says:

    FYI, the high school that Amina Arraf lists on her MySpace page and the high school that Rania lists on her Facebook page are different. (Doesn’t necessarily mean that they aren’t the same person, but it does raise some doubt). Is there any IP evidence for where Rania posts from?

  113. kano says:

    I just read an exchange between Amina and Paula Brooks in The Scotsman article talking about doing a Master’s degree in St Andrew’s among other UK universities, and it suddenly clicked.

    Could she be a student, fellow or staff member at Centre for Syrian Studies in St Andrews University?

  114. Mark says:

    Just saw this on twitter
    @acarvin IP address used by #Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari to access @lezgetreal also edited “Al-Omari” Wikipedia page http://bit.ly/mg8z1H” (presumably her own–haven’t looked into it yet)

    • Mark says:

      OK, just looked at it. It’s the page about Al-Omari more generally, not here. She made edits on lots of pages, starting 5 October 2010 and ending 18 April 2011.

      A very eclectic bunch of edits. One of the first one was a comment on the talk page of Soviet revolutionary Nikolai Bukharin, suggesting a section should be added about his Jewishness. Another offered a small edit to Geert Wilders’ page, indicating that he gained favor with the far right in America, rather than with Americans who shared his opposition to Islam.

    • Mark says:

      Also, she used two IP addresses in UK. These edits were made from the IP address in Edinburgh (http://bit.ly/m6jIwN). No edits were made from the other location, near Leeds (http://bit.ly/km2h2x)

  115. Pingback: Some personal thoughts on Syria by Sophia « band annie's Weblog

  116. harriet_the_spy says:

    Late last nite I found this video, and I’m surprised I haven’t seen it come up before. It’s a TV interview in Quebec with Amina’s “girlfriend,” Sandra Bagaria. This was done BEFORE there were any doubts about Amina’s existence, and the fact that Sandra had never met her in person isn’t brought up (except for in a post script). But what I find intersting is that the narrator says that Sandra “has been on the phone and internet with Arraf’s family” since the abduction, and we know that can’t be true. So who lied about that? Sandra Or did the reporter just get it wrong?

    Here’s the video:
    http://www.globalmontreal.com/Video+Watch+Global+interview+with+Montreal+girlfriend+blogger+Amina/4920248/story.html

    Apparantly, after being confronted with a number of questions from the TV station, Bagaria stopped replying to them.

    Also, here’s my theory as to how Lelena’s pictures got into the hands of Amina: She may have replied to Amina’s personals ads and then sent the photos to her. So when she says she’s never heard of this woman, she may be lying. I suppose that may be because she is gay or bi, but on the downlow.

    • EDB says:

      It would seem unlikely that Amina got the hundreds of photos she used from Jelena in response to her personal ad. Possible, though, that they have or had some connection… Jelena has said that they were taken from her Facebook– entire albums.

    • Eli says:

      Well, to give her the benefit of the doubt, she could have been communicating (via phone and internet) with Rania. Did she or the reporter ever specifically say that she was in contact with any other family members?

    • Sandra says:

      The journalist got it wrong…I never mentioned to anyone that I spoke to her or any family member..only emails.

  117. Jules says:

    I’ve been following this story here and on Facebook, and I’d like to add my two cents. Maybe it is time to apply the Occam’s Razor principle here, with a more simple explanation. My understanding is that Amina, or whoever is using this name, lives in Edinburgh, has all this US background and is or was involved with Jelena Lecic before. They probably have met online, maybe dated, so she had access to Jelena’s pictures. “Amina” is also quite intelligent, advocates indeed for the Syrian rebellion, but is shy and socially inept, having built a powerful persona online who just happened to go out of control. After she started being famous, she realized someone would soon find out that her blog was a hoax, so she faked her disappearance using someone else’s identity (the cousin). We’ll probably never hear from her again, unless some journalist discovers it all.

    I’ve met and befriended people with these characteristics before, naively believing these online personas were real. Indeed, this is quite common in dating websites.

    • Grazia says:

      It’s all very possible however one doesn’t need to befriend a person on facebook to see the profile pictures (and save them to a drive). Just recently facebook has changed the privacy settings but no long ago just sending a message to someone allowed to have access to some areas of the profile.

      • Jules says:

        Good point, but it’s not just a technical matter. Why choose Jelena Lecic in particular?

        • Mark says:

          Also, I think Jelena complained to Facebook about “Amina’s” use of her photographs before the GGID blog started, right? The question then is how would Jelena know that Amina was using her photos? Perhaps a mutual friend saw them and alerted her, or perhaps Jelena and Amina knew each other directly. There was likely some relationship though for Jelena to find out about Amina using her photos.

    • Mark says:

      This makes sense to me. It seems that Andy Carvin was looking into this fairly early on. I didn’t read anything about his doubts until after Amina “went missing,” but he may have been making inquiries in the gay and lesbian community in Damascus before that. Perhaps Amina realized that she was soon going to be exposed and she decided to simply go missing.

  118. mischi says:

    FYI: the person who uses the handle threeholdamina on yahoo groups also goes by the name ” Amina Omari-Lazarus”

    see http://groups.yahoo.com/group/queerjihad/message/7752

  119. mischi says:

    FYI the person who uses the handle threefoldamina also goes by the name “Amina Omari-Lazarus”

    see: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/queerjihad/message/7752

    this is clearly the same amina, and also uses the email address: “dejahthoris1@”

  120. Mark says:

    Anybody seen all the comments from “Jasmine” on the GGID blog. A sock-puppet or just a true believer?

  121. harriet_the_spy says:

    jasmine had earlier comments on amina’s blog too. i don’t think she’s a sockpuppet. I think she;s just one of the crazies that tends to come out in internet mysteries like this. and fasten your seatbelts: there will be more like her, or weirder. there always are.

    • nasim says:

      in one of her Arabic English comments.. she refers to herself as Jasmine”Zawajaa Almudira” meaning the principles wife.. what the heck does that mean?? any clue? is she Amina’s wife?? she says in the comment.. “hiyya habitee wa ana ayrifhaa kuwaiyisa. Hiya mish kizhaba, tikaaalim mazbuut. Kaanit fi sijin.”
      translation.. “she is my lover and I know her well, she is not a liar, She WAS in prison”
      is she just blabbering.. or is there something fishy about this? btw.. she’s referring to herself as a he.. but don’t know if that’s a typo.. usually if ur week in Arabic u do that!

      • leslie says:

        in the comments of the post titled amina, jasmine introduces herself with erotic ‘poetry’ to amina and asks her to contact her. i think that jasmine is either 1. a sockpuppet or 2. someone who got overwhelmingly obsessed with their own version of this amina fantasy, and is not connected in real life to anyone running the blog.

      • H says:

        A small note on Jasmine’s Arabic which may or may not be worth pointing out for non Arabic speakers – she is using the Egyptian dialect not Syrian and there are a few typos in her transliteration.

  122. harriet_the_spy says:

    Mischi! What a good find! I can’t believe I haven’t come across that before.

    She’s also posted here:
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/KatsKourner/attachments/folder/612982172/item/list?mode=tn&order=ordinal&start=1&dir=asc

    This is a lesbian group run by someone named “Jasmine Hussein”?

    Amina writes:
    Da: Amina Omari-Lazarus
    Oggetto: Re: File – MEMBERSHIP
    A: “small_lesbian_butterflies Moderator”
    Data: Lunedì 14 settembre 2009, 08:38

    Here are three photos of me
    I hope this is what you are looking for?

    Amina


    The three photos are all of Lecic.

    the post is from Sept 2009.

    the more we find these old postings, the more I’m convinced that Amina is real, or at least someone’s (male?) lesbian alter-ego that’s been running for quite a while.

  123. harriet_the_spy says:

    i take it back about jasmine. I didn’t look at the dates of posting. all happened after amina’s “abduction”

  124. nasim says:

    we all know Amina is real.. she has been to Syria.. she is an Arab native.. she keeps quoting Kanafani a well known paletinian writer.. and she existed long before the blog was up and running.. but she sure used a lot of fiction in her blog.. and now we just don’t know what’s fact from fiction!

  125. leslie says:

    http://www.classmates.com/directory/public/memberprofile/list.htm?regId=8725694068

    Amina Arraf High School Graduate 1994 Park View HS South Hill, VA

    • leslie says:

      i created a profile to view hers, and hers is marked as new. not sure what new means in terms of timeline…

    • nasim says:

      you did notice that she’s been a member since June 2011 in classmates, right?? Amina is trying to prove she exists.. lol.. ok.. at least we know she’s safe and near a computer!

  126. Sarah says:

    Has anyone seen the picture on Amina’s blog of two women kissing – one of the women looks very much like ‘Rania’ in her facebook profice picture. Also – if Sandra Bagaria has been in a relationship with Amina for approx 6 – 8 months (reports vary) then where did she meet Amina if not her blog? And what, if she knew nothing of the online blog she would that eventually would be created by Amina, did she make of it? Also, I have read that Sandra was due to meet Amina in Paris this month? That is also something strange. If Amina’s blog was purely about Syria she would not have cultivated an online relationship consisting of over 500 emails (as reported) – that takes way too much time and emotion. She is obviously emotionally connected to these lies in a big way.

    • nasim says:

      I’m almost sure that the girl in the picture is not Rania… I’m guessing Sandra and Amina met through a dating website, and then she started her blog! BTW, she canceled that trip to (I thought it was Rome) a while ago, because of the situation in Syria.. or maybe because she doesn’t want her to know that she’s not the same lady in the picture! tsk tsk.. I think she started a mess and never thought of the consequenses.. she was sinking day by day.. until she decided that an “abduction” would make it all feel better! Nonetheless, it made the situation worse, and now she’s struggling to come out, but this coming out story is surly going to be far much harder than the first one posted on her blog!

      • Anna says:

        Sandra has changed her fb profile settings. I’mn still iffy about her.

        • Anna says:

          Sorry, that comment was a bit random as a reply to yours nasim. You mentioned Sandra and it reminded me!

          Also, I actually posted some info your Nathalie Claude post further up but it hasn’t been approved for publishing, not sure why though. :S

          • nasim says:

            Nathalie’s friend sent me a private message telling me that Nathalie is suspecious of the page investigating Amina on facebook..and that’s why she keeps commenting that way! But Nathalie and her friend are both friends of Sandra.. so maybe they’re trying to find some info about Amina.. ..oh Gosh, I don’t know!! Everything is just so confusing, and we don’t know what and whom to believe!

          • Anna says:

            That’s basically what I posted further up that wasn’t published (the friendships with Sandra).

            Really though, if my friends internet girlfriend who she had never ‘met’ in any capacity was kidnapped/found to be completely bogus, the last thing I’d be doing is mucking about with fb pages. Weird.

      • Sandra says:

        Ok, let’s set the record straight…I was suppose to meet her in Rome…I changed my picture cause “Free AMina” not relevant anymore. My friends are trying to find info to understand. Im sure you understand that Im in an unreal situation.

  127. leslie says:

    Okay, so someone might need to help me out with this, but http://www.mylife.com/threefoldamina leads you to Bunny Carruthers, a character in a war game website and a person from Stone Mountain, Georgia..http://ctpgxi.blogspot.com/2009/05/slow-boat-to-cairo.html I’m confused…

  128. Grazia says:

    I have few doubts now about Amina being a real person, I mean it doesn’t sound like a conspiracy from an organised body or entity.

    This is a person with a deep interest in writing, history and political and social issues. I also find difficult to believe she is not a woman, it would be odd for a man (even a gay man) declaring his lesbianism consistently. The dating sites seem very real to me, they are showing a woman willing to meet other women, with very little politics involved.

    I have the feeling that she decided at one point to adopt another visual persona, indeed she didn’t change much of her personality. Different Names and nicknames are the norm on the internet, it would be common sense not to use the real one.

    I also fear that she might be in detention (or she has been for a very short while) and she could have never foreseen all the hype around her persona and, therefore, the revelation of her fake pictures worldwide. I personally wouldn’t fake my detention if I were using other people’s images, just to be shamed all over the world!
    She surely spent some time in Edinburgh, this doesn’t mean she wasn’t in Damascus recently, we can’t exclude it.

    About Sandra Bagaria, she commented on twitter her situation as a David Lynch movie (I suppose nightmarish). When she says in the video interview that she spoke to the family it could have well be Rania. Rania could be in a sort of confusion now, after the news spread everywhere. She probably doesn’t know what to say about the fake identity and so on…

    Just few thoughts.

    • Violette says:

      But that still doesn’t explain the fact that someone is moderating the comments on her blog, yet no updates have been posted in regards to her current situation. Surely the same person who has access to delete comments has access to post and is clear to Amina.

      Amina also states several times that she holds dual citizenship of Syria and the US, yet the US government has reported that there are no US-citizens being held or detained.

      Lastly, people who live in Damascus have reported over and over that Amina’s descriptions are more dated and not at all consistent with someone who has been there recently.

      I can understand that Amina’s on-line persona and real one may have many common threads, as isn’t all fiction based on truth? But I think at this point in the investigation, it’s really implausible to think that the blog is real, the detention was real, and that even Rania (and her facebook profile) are real.

      Not to be severely cliche, but if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck…

  129. Sarah says:

    After reading all the ‘Gay Girl in Damascus’ posts again, i was struck by two things – one “Amina” is an excellant writer – two, the posts in May that contain youtube/other media cannot have been contributed by a female, these films are incredibly harrowing but if you look closely there is not a single female in them – meaning they have been posted by a male. Obviously this doesn’t mean Amina is male, but certainly the person who recorded/posted the films is! I want more than anything for the “Amina” story to be real, yet the more i research (and i am seriously researching) leads me to believe it is all a big lie.

  130. Sarah says:

    want all this to end for entirely selfish reasons.

    When I came back to Damascus in August, I did so because I thought it would be good to be grounded here, to be where I come from and all of that (and, truth be told, the US economic situation and the rise of some really ugly bigotry to prominence did not hurt). I thought then that it would be easy and calming to be here … and at first it was …
    I came with a couple of planned writing projects (an autobiography disguised as a novel (or the other way around), a book on Syrian history for visitors, and so on) and I did have vague hopes of seeing major reforms or change.
    But, if you had asked me then, what were the odds of major change here, I would say very unlikely any time soon. Maybe one law might be relaxed … but if anything was going to alter, it would merely be a matter of economics.
    I made plans based on that assumption. I decided that, finally, I’d go back to school in what I really wanted (history) and applied to a number of master’s programs in Britain …
    When I left the US, I had deep concerns about my father’s health; he had a stroke last year and his health has started to fade. After I left, he handed over his business to my younger brother, put his house up for rent … and in January, he and my mother arrived here. He made it very clear that that was the last journey he would be making … and he settled in …
    And nothing seemed too strange or too strained. A dull enough year ahead for me …

  131. Sarah says:

    The above post i was trying to highlight was from Amina’s blog – I’m very sorry that i haven’t done it professionally! I was trying to make Amina’s point about being ‘autobiographical’ (probably spelt wrong) clear – perhaps this whole thing is false! Yet if so what about those horrific videos by Amina on her blog? ?

  132. Mark says:

    Looks like she signed her name “Amy” on at least one of the Alternate History postings in 2008, e.g.:
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/alternate-history/message/18797

  133. Sarah says:

    In fact the more i look at the post’s amina made in her blog about syrian’s fighting for freedom, the more upset i get?!! They are all extreme situations, full of MEN!! I feel so upset

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  135. Liz Henry says:

    Hello, I haven’t been able to moderate or answer comments today because I’m at a conference (still ongoing).

    To those of you above who aren’t personas of the blogger behind Amina, thanks for your concerns and research and all the interesting details you uncovered. Please keep in mind that you may be talking to an alter ego or sockpuppet of that person who is trying to put out a cloud of misleading information.

    Also, one of the most bizarre aspects of investigating the trail has been looking at Paula Brooks of lezgetreal.com, who appears to be fictional as well. I don’t know who is running Paula as their persona, but if Paula is the Amina blogger, that Paula should have been the one to provide IP addresses.

    To the blogger behind Amina, I’d like to say again that I feel for your predicament, and I sincerely hope you can bring yourself to post on the GGiD blog, at the least to explain that you are not who you represented yourself to be and are not detained by Syrian security or in danger of being arrested.

    • Violette says:

      That is extremely bizarre and shocking! I appreciate you keeping us updated with the situation and I’m sure we will continue to dig and try to uncover the truth!

    • Mel says:

      Woah, where does it come into play that Paula Brooks is fictional??? I’ve never seen that anywhere!!

    • H says:

      Liz, just a tribute to you for all your hard work and for your hugely valuable initiation of and input on this story.
      I am intrigued by the Paula Brooks comment you made about her being fake – if you are able or willing to share details that would be interesting but if not, no problem. Unfortunately, this whole story has gripped my curiosity more than it should have. :)
      My own theory on Amina is that she was always gunning for a book deal and that maybe having enjoyed increasing fame via the My Father the Hero post, she decided it was time to crank up the attention even further with the kidnapping story. What doesn’t make sense, though, is how she knowingly used someone else’s photo for publishing in media interviews. Surely, someone of such obvious academic intelligence would have some fear that this could be her undoing? At times, I wonder if she has psychopathic traits – lack of empathy for victims, ability to lie and deceive and the belief that those who believe in those lies deserve to be duped. Certainly, she has some type of personality disorder, it would seem, even if psychopathic is taking it too far.

  136. Anonymous says:

    see comments by Robin McLaren (female) on FreeAminaArraf FB page, then see Robin McLaren (male) Linked In profile – IT professional, in Edinbrugh. what are the changes?

  137. Anonymous says:

    second try, see post about Bouthaina Shaaban and how she shows up on both Amina’s and Rania’s facebook friends. Google the name. Carvin, did you see this?

  138. Jade says:

    Paula Brooks is a fake too? Are you sure? That would be pretty intense! :(

    • Gray says:

      She probably isn’t a fake (after all, other writers at lezgetreal seem to know her personally), but aparently she uses a pseudonym. Maybe to avoid problems at the workplace. The world isn’t so perfect yet, there’s still very real discrimination of LGBTs, so that’s understandable.

    • Gray says:

      Jade, at the Electonic Intifada, lezgetreal author “Linda S. Carbonell” has come forward and stated that both her own name and “Paula Brooks” are pseudonyms:
      http://electronicintifada.net/comment/289#comment-289

      Imho that explanation makes sense. With the hateful climate created by the right wingers, LGBT’s in the US have to be concerned about their security. And since “Amina” went away from lezgetreal to start her own blog, I don’t think “Brooks” or “Carbonell” are the real “gay girl in Damascus”.

  139. Benjamin says:

    Please see the evidence we’ve gathered about the Amina hoax here. http://electronicintifada.net/blog/ali-abunimah/new-evidence-about-amina-gay-girl-damascus-hoax

    • mischi says:

      B:

      Thanks for this great write-up!

      I just wanted to point out that, according to a quick search for “Amina” plus the ESL Instruction & Consulting group that lists MacMaster’s home address, there may have been further links between the fake-Amina and the real-MacMaster. See:

      http://www.google.com/search?sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=%22Esl+Instruction+%26+Consulting%22+Amina

      • Anna says:

        A former tutor there perhaps? From GGID I think it’s fair to assume Amina is a native English speaker rather than the possiblity of her learning English only recently.

      • Violette says:

        I think its more like – reviews by a fake persona to further one’s own business.

    • H says:

      Wow. Great stuff.

    • mischi says:

      sorry one more thing for B:

      I could have *sworn* that the old linkedin profile for “Amina Arraf” had listed ESL Instruction & Consulting as one of her former employers…. this appears to be deleted now, but perhaps someone can try to dig into this angle?

      • Mark says:

        I never saw that, but if she had a degree in applied linguistics it would make sense. The major focus of applied linguistics is second language learning and teaching.

      • Mark says:

        And she posted those two reviews in May/June 2008. She supposedly graduated with the degree in applied linguistics in 2007. So she could have gotten a job there after she graduated (if not before). Perhaps she used her “pen name” rather than her real name to post the review to conceal the fact that a teacher there was giving it a positive review.

        • kieo says:

          This site keeps removing posts because of content.

          Amina Arraf netlog from 2007 is written completely in HEBREW. She is Israeli.

          http://he.netlog.com/aminaarraf

          • Liz Henry says:

            Hello kieo,

            I have kept back some comments and removed a few if they are not making an attempt to be respectful. For people who want to talk about theories of connections of Israeli involvement, or whether a person is Jewish or not, go right ahead, but do it without racist name-calling, please, and try to frame theories as theories and not as certain facts. Sources and links are also welcome. Thanks!

    • EDB says:

      Wow, Benjamin. From what you’ve revealed here it would seem very likely that MacMaster and Froelicher are connected to “Amina” and protecting her. But perhaps they are not themselves behind the blog… This is getting weirder by the second.

      • H says:

        It could still be that MacMaster and Froelicker are the people behind Amina. If the ESL group is listed as their home address, perhaps they used the Amina identity to give a glowing review to push the business. Strangely, though, Amina’s reviews show typos and lack of capitalisation of English, which is in stark contrast to the style of the GGID blog where she is particular about details.

    • Gray says:

      Kudos to the Electronic Intifada, that’s very interesting new information. MacMaster and Froelicher have some explaining to do. In light of these findings, MacMaster’s statement isn’t really convicing: “Whomever that person ‘really’ is, I have doubtless interacted with her at some point. I do not know further than that about her.” Well, “Amina” used their former home address and the connections to Edinburgh indeed are VERY “unusual” coincidences. And the fact that “gay girl in Damascus” used a photograph obviously shot by MacMaster/ Froehlicher, but not published in that uncropped form, shows that the contact must have been more close than described in their statement. After all, come on, why should a girl in Damascus need to use a photograph from someone else? She could shoot her own pictures every day! If she asked MacMaster/Froehlicher for the photo, that should have alerted those folks that something doesn’t compute!

      Imho a very promising new angle of the story, and I guess that may be the clue to the mystery surrounding the blogger.

    • H says:

      Can’t wade through comments to see if something similar has been posted but searching for Britta Froelicher turns up this:
      http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/intrel/css/people/
      Member of the Centre for Syrian Studies and Associate Fellow of School of International Relations at University of Saint Andrews.
      Also this:
      http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/?p=1831
      where she is listed as Director of the American Friends Service Committee’s Middle East Peace Education Program.

    • leslie says:

      thank you for this. i have been worried over the last few days that there was even the tiniest, slightest ,possibility that there was a real person who might be out there in need of help. that concern is eliminated completely.

  140. EDB says:

    This connects Britta Froehlicher to an Aminah Darden… (she sent the email to this group): http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Al-FarooqWomensCommittee/message/54
    Aminah Darden is slightly older than “Amina” blogger claims to be, went to Georgia State U., lives in Lilburn, GA (where cousin Rania portends to live) and is on the board of the Risala Institute. http://www.risalainstitute.com/about-us/our-people/

    • leslie says:

      that blog existed before today… i was checking on jasmine yesterday and found that page with more stories….. I’m not sure how to find the previous version…

      • Jade says:

        ‘jasmine’ is a bit of an unhinged nutter it seems, I don’t think it’s a good idea to interact with her or feed her delusions. She seems desperate to be connected to ‘amina’ and that’s all that blog has been created for I believe.

        • Anna says:

          I was thinking that too. And with the new MacMaster/Froehlicher link I’m even more inclined to think she has nothing to do with this.

    • H says:

      Jasmine’s credibility sinks even further with the posting of a woman’s pair of (lopsided) breasts on her blog.

      • Gray says:

        Credibility, shmedibility, I like that photo!
        8-)
        Sry, but I can’t help it…yeah, I know, I really should grow up…

      • nasim says:

        I agree.. a Jasmine Hussein defenitely doesn’t look like that! I’m not stereotypical… I’m just using logic :P

  141. Mark says:

    Yikes. I just read the link that Benjamin posted above. It didn’t stand out at first, so everybody should read it. Pretty compelling evidence that Thomas (Tom) J MacMaster and Britta Froelicher are closely linked to “Amina” or, perhaps more likely, are themselves Amina: http://electronicintifada.net/blog/ali-abunimah/new-evidence-about-amina-gay-girl-damascus-hoax

  142. Grazia says:

    Just to add one possibility…
    The recent findings about MacMaster/Britta Froelicher are definately a very interesting trail but we also have to contemplate also the possibility that the real Amina was helped by friends-sympathizers in Europe.

    It seems that Froelicher is an associate fellow at the Centre for Syrian Studies at the University of St. Andrews (as suggested by a commentator on EI). MacMaster and Froelicher were coming from Georgia
    http://www.linkedin.com/pub/britta-froelicher-ms-pmp/4/150/906
    Their involvement could well be of support rather than conspiracy to create a fake blogger. This support might have been giving a proxy address, posting articles on blogs etc.

    If the IPs where based in Edinburgh University, maybe “Amina” was sending the posts via email and they were publishing them on the blog, or making changes on wikipedia.

    Nevertheless they will have to cooperate for the solution to this mistery, because I think they know who Amina is and providing coverage.

    • leslie says:

      it seems most unlikely that they are covering for someone else. i think that they or whichever of them has been posting on GGID should release a statement and apologize for the emotional turmoil they have put so many through. it might not have been their intention to have it go this far, but it has, and they need to take responsibility.

  143. harriet_the_spy says:

    I’m curious about this part of the “solution” at the Electronic Infitada:

    On a private Yahoo discussion group named “thecrescentland” that was run and operated by “Amina” and has since been closed down, the following name and physical address information was displayed, according to a person who was a member of that group:

    Amina Arraf & Ian Lazarus
    c/o Mr & Mrs Abdallah Arraf-Omari
    5646 Crestwood Dr, SW
    Stone Mountain, GA 30087

    There is, however, no evidence of an Amina Arraf, Ian Lazarus or Mr & Mrs Abdallah Arraf-Omari ever owning or occupying this address.”

    Okay – if its a private yahoo discussion group and has “since”(?) been closed down, how did they get this information. Who is this “person who was a member of that group”?

  144. libby says:

    Macmasters and amina interacted on the alt history site:

    The following is part of their exchange. You will note that “he says” that he comes from the Shenandoah valley but is now living in Georgia

    Shenandoah valley, now living in Georgia.

    Amina Arraf wrote:
    > Really? My parents also met outside washington, DC.
    > Where are you from?
    >
    > – Ami
    >
    > — macmaster@… wrote:
    >
    > > That’s an annoying thing with Turtledove; I would
    > > expect that, very
    > > quickly, people would begin not meeting and, within
    > > a few decades, many
    > > would not be the same (though where marriages are
    > > arranged or between
    > > relatives or everyone is from the same small place,
    > > it’ll take longer)
    > >
    > > i know my own parents met by a chance of
    > > circumstance related to middle
    > > eastern politics that could easily have happened
    > > differently (they met on
    > > capital hill and their first conversation was about
    > > the arab-israeli wars)
    > > – and they’d unlikely have met any other way. So,
    > > change the president of
    > > egypt or the president of the usa half a century
    > > ago, and i’m gone in a
    > > puff of smoke …
    > >
    > >
    > >

    • Mark says:

      Combining the Electronic Intifada stuff about MacMaster and Froelich, and the other comments on the Lez Ge Real site speculating that Amina is a grad student in Medieval history:

      (1) appears that MacMaster is a grad student in history at Edinburgh.  This pdf link shows that he deputized for the History PG representative at a meeting:
      http://bit.ly/lkayej

      (2) And this page shows that Tom MacMaster posted to an Alternative History list about the Roman Byzantine Empire:
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/RomanByzantineAltHist/message/3670

      Perhaps it is MacMaster instead of Britta?  (Or both of them….?)

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