A new post on the Gay Girl in Damascus blog includes a confession from Tom MacMaster. Andy Carvin offers independent confirmation of the confession with statements from Tom MacMaster and Britta Froelicher.
MacMaster has also separately confirmed he is behind the hoax in response to an email from The Electronic Intifada asking for confirmation. MacMaster wrote:
Yes. We will be doing a first interview with a journalist of our choice in 12-24 hours. After that, we may consider other media.
Ali Abunimah and Benjamin Doherty write:
We have gathered compelling new evidence regarding the “Gay Girl in Damascus” blogger hoax.
Those responsible for this hoax have caused a great deal of concern and anguish by posting information alleging that “Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari” the supposed “Gay Girl” blogger had been kidnapped from the streets of Damascus, possibly by Syrian authorities, and was likely in grave danger.
A measure of the concern that this story has caused is the formation of a Facebook group calling to “Free Amina Arraf” with more than 15,000 members, as well as numerous action alerts and stories in international media.
We also believe that whoever is responsible for the hoax is attempting to conceal their responsibility and continues to disseminate false information. They have previously engaged in such behavior as taking photographs from the Facebook page of a totally uninvolved individual and deceptively presenting them as being images of Amina and members of her family.
We believe that the person or persons responsible should end this deception which has been harmful to individuals who trusted and believed in “Amina” and more broadly has sown confusion, distraction and absorbed energy and attention at a time when real people are in danger in Syria and in other countries in the region.
We are sharing the information we have gathered here not in order to level accusations, but so that others might pursue these leads to conclusive ends. The best outcome would be if the person or persons behind the hoax would take responsibility themselves to bring the matter to a close and provide all doubters with reassurance that “Amina” is not in danger because she is a fictitious character.
While we believe that the information gathered here is compelling in its own right, we have managed to corroborate additional information from several independent sources that we are not publishing and that significantly increases our confidence in the information we have. We do not know the motives of the person or persons behind this hoax.
The information presented below connects the “Amina” blogger to two people in real life: Thomas (Tom) J MacMaster and Britta Froelicher who are married to each other.
The Electronic Intifada wrote to MacMaster requesting to speak to him about “Amina,” to which he responded, “Thanks, but as I have stated before, it is neither my wife nor me.”
A follow up email from The Electronic Intifada to MacMaster asking to speak to him so that we could present the information we have met with the following response:
Unfortunately, we’re on vacation so I wouldn’t be able to do so. We have already been ‘confronted’ by the Washington post with these and have denied them and will continue to do so.”
We do not know what information The Washington Post may have confronted MacMaster with and whether it is the same information presented here. In a final response to The Electronic Intifada, MacMaster wrote:
I am not the blogger in question. Whomever that person ‘really’ is, I have doubtless interacted with her at some point. I do not know further than that about her. When I first read the news story, I momentarily thought I had an idea who she was. As time has progressed that seems much less likely. I understand there are a number of unusual coincidences regarding the blogger and either me or my wife. Those are, as far as I am aware, simply unusual. I am not going to make more of that.
MacMaster has acknowledged certain “coincidences” but as mentioned refused to grant us an opportunity to go through them in detail in an attempt to explain or debunk them. We present below the information we wanted to discuss with MacMaster.
“Amina’s” home address is the same as MacMaster’s address
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.
According to State of Georgia property records, the house at that address has been owned by Thomas MacMaster for many years. On 29 November 2007, MacMaster quit-claimed a share of ownership in the property to Britta Froelicher. MacMaster and Froelicher are the current owners of the property according to State property records.
MacMaster has not only owned the property but occupied it until September 2010 when he moved to Scotland. Evidence of his occupation of the property prior to that date includes invitations to barbecues he issued to friends via Facebook.
The possibility that MacMaster could have rented or lent his home to the “real” Amina is excluded by the fact that MacMaster claims not to know Amina.
Photograph of Assad billboard in Syria
In Amina’s 11 May 2011 blog post “Irony” there appears a photograph of a billboard taken in Syria.
The same photo but with a tighter crop appears on Britta Froelicher’s Picasa account.
The photo in the Picasa account also appears to have been sharpened and adjusted. It is clear, from details in the two images, including the person wearing a helmet in the foreground that the images were taken at the same time and place.
However, the fact that the image on the Amina blog has a wider field of view suggests it could not simply have been stolen from Froelicher’s Picasa account. It would appear that the Amina blogger had access to the original image.
Many other images in Froelicher’s account show her and MacMaster in Damascus.
Wikipedia edits from Edinburgh IP addresses
The Lez Get Real (LGR) web site published 19 articles purporting to be authored by an Amina Abdallah. On 10 June 2011, LGR issued An Apology To Our Readers About Amina Abdallah.
The apology claimed that LGR had been deceived by Amina and published her posts in good faith, believing her to be who she presented herself as. It also acknowledged that LGR had assisted Amina in establishing her “Gay Girl in Damascus” blog.
In a comment on that post, Paula Brooks, executive editor of LGR, gave two IP addresses which she said had been used by Amina to access LGR’s servers. The whois records for these IP addreses both have descriptions that indicate they are allocated to UoE or The University of Edinburgh.
One of these IP addresses was the source of a number of edits to various articles on Wikipedia. These edits from 18.104.22.168 begin in October 2010. The edited pages all involve Middle East, Arab, Islamic and historical topics.
MacMaster posted Facebook updates between 4 September 2010 and 8 September 2010 documenting his move from Stone Mountain, Georgia to Edinburgh, UK, including 47 photographs added to a gallery named “First Days in Edinburgh” on 8 September.
Topics of Wikipedia articles edited from the Edinburgh IP address overlap with many topics and subject areas in which MacMaster and Froelicher have documented interests and experiences according to online records.
A note of caution about the source of the information on the IP addresses: Paula Brooks, Executive Editor of LGR claims to work at the Smithsonian Institution and to hold a Ph.D. from Bryn Mawr College and three Masters degrees from Gallaudet University, University of North Carolina, and University of Dayton.
However, Paula Brooks is the sole source of information on Paula Brooks; extensive Internet, dissertation abstract, media, and Lexis-Nexis searches reveal no evidence of the real life existence of such a person beyond the persona on LGR, Facebook and LinkedIn.
“Paula Brooks” may be an avatar for a real person who fits the same description but uses a different name in real life, or it could be a fabricated persona. The IP address information appears circumstantially to match MacMaster’s movements and interests, but, given the uncertainties about its provenance, needs to be treated with extra caution unless Paula Brooks’ identity can be confirmed.
The information we have collected here is not intended as either an accusation or final, conclusive proof of who may be behind the Amina hoax. However taken together we felt it was compelling enough that we had to publish it as soon as possible. This is primarily because we believe, and have observed, that the hoaxer(s) is both attempting to hide information that could lead to discovery and furthering the hoax with other false personas. By sharing this information we want to provide the best chance that this story can be brought to closure and people’s attention directed back toward real world events.