The blog A Gay Girl in Damascus purportedly written by a Syrian-American woman, Amina Arraf living in Damascus, has been confirmed as a hoax.
The blog got worldwide publicity last week when a post appeared on the site saying Amina had been abducted by security forces.
A post on the site last night claimed the real author of the blog was a man based in Istanbul called Tom MacMaster who admits inventing Amina Arraf.
In the post, MacMaster apologised to readers and claimed: "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. I do not believe I have harmed anyone – I feel I've created an important voice for issues I feel strongly about."
MacMaster said he was "the sole author of all posts on this blog".
Meanwhile, the Guardian readers' editor Chris Elliott in his Open Door column today says of A Gay Girl in Damascus: "It looks like 'she' is an academic based in Edinburgh."
A news story in the Guardian says MacMaster is "a 40-year-old Middle East activist studying for a masters at Edinburgh University." He and his wife are thought to be on holiday in Turkey.
The Guardian has apologised for using pictures of Jelena Lecic, an administrator at the Royal College of Physicians in London, to illustrate the A Gay Girl in Damascus blog. The pictures had been supplied by the person claiming to be Amina Arraf to a Guardian journalist.
Elliott says today: "The Guardian did not remove all the pictures until 6pm on Wednesday 8 June, 27 hours after Jelena Lecic first called the Guardian. It took too long for this to happen, for which we should apologise. The mitigating factors are that we first acted within four hours but compounded the error by putting up another wrong picture, albeit one that had been up on our website for a month, was unchallenged and was thought to have come directly from 'Amina'. We know that when using social media – as we will continue to do as part of our journalism – the Guardian will have to redouble its efforts in establishing not just methods of verification, but of signalling to the reader the level of verification we think we can reasonably claim."