msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 6/13/2011 6:54:46 PM ET 2011-06-13T22:54:46

A new entry to a blog purportedly written by a Syrian-American lesbian living in Damascus asserted Sunday that the four-month saga was a hoax, supposedly written by a man.

The post entitled "Apology to readers" on the "A Gay Girl in Damascus" blog was signed by "Tom MacMaster" in Istanbul, Turkey. The Washington Post identified him as a 40-year-old American man from Georgia. The newspaper described him as a Middle East peace activist working toward a master's degree at Scotland's University of Edinburgh.

In the post, the author says the narrative of a lesbian's life and kidnapping in Syria was fictional but insists "the facts on thıs blog are true and not misleading as to the situation on the ground."

"I do not believe that I have harmed anyone," the post continued. "I feel that I have created an important voice for issues that I feel strongly about."

The post said its author never expected so much attention. MacMaster included the attribution, "The sole author of all posts on this blog" in the signature.

Later Monday, The Washington Post reported that an editor of lesbian news website Lezgetreal.com — who encouraged Arraf and republished her blog entries — was a man named Bill Graber who used the name Paula Brooks as an online persona.

Graber confirmed his identity to The Associated Press, saying "LezGetReal was not meant to be deceitful or con anyone."

Last Tuesday, a blog post at the same site and supposedly written by the woman's cousin said 35-year-old Amina Arraf had been detained in Damascus after weeks on the run.

The post, purportedly by a woman named Rania Ismail, said Arraf was last seen the previous day being bundled into a car by three men in civilian clothes as she was on her way to meet someone at the activist Local Coordination Committees. Ismail said a friend accompanying her was nearby and saw what happened.

News organizations, including msnbc.com , covered the apparent disappearance.

'Shame on you'
In the Sunday post, MacMaster said he hopes "people pay as much attention to the people of the Middle East and their struggles in thıs year of revolutions.

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

But gay activists in the Middle East reacted angrily to the news of the hoax, saying it instead will have the opposite effect, causing more trouble for them.

"To Mr. MacMaster, I say shame on you!!!" a poster writing under the name Sami Hamwi wrote Sunday on GayMiddleEast.com, which says it is a grassroots site for news on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues.

"There are bloggers in Syria who are trying as hard as they can to report news and stories from the country," Hamwi wrote. "What you have done has harmed many, put us all in danger, and made us worry about our LGBT activism. Add to that, that it might have caused doubts about the authenticity of our blogs, stories, and us."

In the same post, a writer under the name of Daniel Nassar said the posts on the "Gay Girl" blog forced "a lot of the real activists in the LGBT community" into the spotlight and therefore into the crosshairs of Syrian authorities.

"You took away my voice, Mr. MacMaster, and the voices of many people who I know. To bring attention to yourself and blog; you managed to bring the LGBT movement in the Middle East years back," Nassar wrote. "You single-handedly managed to bring unwanted attention from authorities to our cause and you will be responsible for any LGBT activist who might be yet another fallen angel during these critical time(s)."

'It just kept getting bigger'
The "Gay Girl" blog seemed convincing enough that a reporter for The Associated Press, who maintained a monthlong email correspondence with someone claiming to be Arraf, found the writer seemed very much like a woman in the midst of the violent change gripping Syria. The writer spoke about friends in Damascus, and outlined worries about her father and hopes for the future of her country.

In the emails, the person acknowledged fudging some details of escaping from Syrian security officials to protect herself and her family, and painted a harrowing picture of fleeing her home.

But the story about her kidnapping unraveled quickly, and there were no traces of the woman or her family in the United States.

"I sort of by accident… created something that had a lot more interest than I had ever possibly expected and then when I tried to shut it down it just kept getting bigger," MacMaster told The New York Times on Monday.

Skepticism over her disappearance and identity grew after a woman in London claimed that photos purported to be of Arraf were actually of her. Jelena Lecic, a Croatian and an administrator at the Royal College of Physicians in London, said she believed her identity had been used before by the blog author.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Syrian government prepared for 'all-out battle'

  1. Closed captioning of: Syrian government prepared for 'all-out battle'

    >>> overseas today, syria sent elite troops , helicopters and tanks to take back a town where police and soldiers had joined anti-government protesters. in doing so, the government of president rashad showed it was prepared for an all-out battle to stay in power after three months from protests. that town's not far from the border of turkey where thousands of syrians have been taking refuge in recent weeks. nbc's john ray who made his way across the border into syria today reports on the battle and those trying to get out.

    >> reporter: this is the same treacherous terrain thousands of syrians have crossed for safety. but we're heading in the opposite direction. into a country in turmoil. hundreds of desperate people clinging to the remnants of their lives. almost everyone here has a tale of tragedy or terror to tell. this man shows us how the army attacked with machine guns and helicopters. another takes off a bandage to reveal a bullet wound. he says he was hit by a sniper. there are women and children here and few of the essentials of life. food and water is smuggled into them from turkey. we're about half a mile inside the syrian border. although conditions of this makeshift camp are basic, it is far, far better than the terror these people have left behind. the syrian army on the move. tanks and troops with a mission to destroy any opposition in their path. tonight, state tv boasted they have retaken the region's largest town, extracted revenge on the rebels. but now fields burned, and by many accounts, much of the town has been destroyed. and abandoned by most of its townspeople, who have fled, some into turkey, but others are marooned on the syrian side of the border unwilling or unable to leave. these people are exhausted, terrorized by their own government, abandoned by the world. john ray , nbc news, syria .

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