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'Gay Girl In Damascus': Missing Or Mythical?

We've been holding off on reporting about the mystery surrounding the blogger known as "" and the reports that she was arrested by Syrian authorities.

There are a growing number of questions about who she may or may not be and even whether such a person is actually in the hands of the authorities.

But our colleague Andy Carvin, NPR's senior social media strategist, is at the center of the online effort to get to the truth. So we want to pass along some of what he's learned:

"Earlier this week I got a tip from an LGBT Syrian source who didn't believe Amina existed. They had told me they had asked around other members of the LGBT community and they couldn't find anyone who knew her. They also were very concerned that her blog posts were drawing attention to Syria's LGBT community in ways that could be dangerous for them. ...

"Independently of this, two other Syrian sources I knew mentioned similar speculation to me. They didn't say she was fictitious, per se, but they were skeptical of the circumstances described in her My Father The Hero blog post. ...

"I began to ask around on Twitter if anyone had met her in person, and I couldn't find anyone who had. ...

"While all of this was going on, I contacted another Syrian contact who has connections with two prominent opposition members. He was under the impression that one of these people had indeed met her once, but in an email that this person sent me this evening, he denied this. ...

"Finally, yet another source told me to take a look . ... The blog explicitly stated it was her intention to post both real stories and fiction on her blog — and not tell readers which was which.

"So where does this leave us? I still have many more questions than answers, but I currently believe Amina is a real person, but one who is much more expressive about herself online than offline. ...

"Despite all the questions I have, I am deeply worried that this discussion about her identity could distract people from the possibility that should might be being brutalized in detention, and in dire need of support from friends and strangers alike."

Andy also adds, in messages he's posted on Twitter within the past few hours, that the pictures Amina has used on her blog and elsewhere appear to be of other women. ( as he tries to separate fact from fiction.)

Indeed, The Wall Street Journal's Dispatch blog reports that "a London publicist said Wednesday that the photos circulating on the Web and in the media show someone else entirely. The photos are of Jelena Lecic, who lives in London, according to publicist, Julius Just."

We'll keep tabs on what Andy and others are learning.

Update at 4:10 p.m. ET. Public Records Yield Dead End:

With the help of JoElla Straley of NPR's library, we scoured public records but were unable to find anything to confirm that Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari exists.

Based on biographical information found in her blogs and in interviews, we also looked for any public records pertaining to her parents and came up empty.

We also followed up on the last person to post on her blog: Someone who said she was Araf's cousin and that her name was Rania Ismail. We were able to locate a Facebook page we think is Ismail's — she is friends with Araf and claims Araf is her cousin on the page — but were unable to find any public records in Georgia under that name.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner told NPR that they have "not yet been able to confirm any of the details contained in Ms. Arraf's blog.

"Officials in Damascus and Washington are continuing to attempt to ascertain more information about Ms. Arraf including confirmation of her citizenship," Toner said.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
Eyder Peralta
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.