US man comes clean on 'Gay Girl in Damascus' blog hoax

Tom MacMaster, a bearded 40-year-old married Edinburgh University masters student,apologised yesterday and confessed that he was "Amina Abdallah Arraf", supposedly a Syrian lesbian.

The Arraf character rose to fame with her reports on the movement against President Bashar Al-Assad, posting as "an out Syrian lesbian's thoughts on life, the universe and so on".

Then last Tuesday someone claiming to be her cousin wrote on the website that Arraf had been snatched off the street by three armed men and bundled into a car bearing a pro-government window sticker.

The report sparked a wave of alarm among her online followers. Supporters even set up a "Free Amina Abdallah" group on the social networking site Facebook, attracting nearly 15,000 followers.

MacMaster finally came clean in a posting on the blog yesterday, after doubts began to emerge as to whether Arraf was for real. He admitted that he was the sole author of the posts.

"I never expected this level of attention," MacMaster wrote in an "Apology to readers" which he datelined from Istanbul, Turkey, where he and his wife were reportedly on holiday.

"While the narrative voice may have been fictional, the facts on this blog are true and not misleading as to the situation on the ground."

MacMaster added: "I do not believe that I have harmed anyone -- I feel that I have created an important voice for issues that I feel strongly about.

"I only hope that people pay as much attention to the people of the Middle East and their struggles in this year of revolutions.

"The events there are being shaped by the people living them on a daily basis. I have only tried to illuminate them for a western audience.

"This experience has sadly only confirmed my feelings regarding the often superficial coverage of the Middle East and the pervasiveness of new forms of liberal Orientalism."

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