Libya, Bahrain and a mystery journalist

Back in April, an article carrying the by-line Liliane Khalil appeared on various websites. It described the activities of a group of Libyan rebels who were purportedly tweeting from the conflict zone under the collective name "OperationLibyia" [sic] and related a touching story that one of them – a young father – had been injured and then died for lack of medical attention.

Besides appearing on blogs, the story was also published by the Palestinian Ma'an News Agency and quoted at length in The Lede for the New York Times.

Shortly afterwards, questions were raised about OperationLibyia and it appeared that Khalil's story might be untrue.

Also in April, another article appeared under Liliane Khalil's name – this time in the Bahrain Independent (a pro-government publication). It was a lengthy attack on the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and its alleged connections with Iran. The article reads like a straightforward piece of propaganda for the Bahraini regime.

Liliane Khalil also volunteered her services (unpaid) for the Cairo-based news website, Bikya Masr, where she was given the title of contributing editor. Apparently she never met anyone from Bikya Masr face-to-face and, despite promising interviews with various important people, she seems to have done little more than compile news reports from published sources.

All this might suggest that Liliane Khalil is simply a hapless young freelance – inexperienced and somewhat gullible – trying to make her way in journalism. Even so, she seems to have impressed the Bahrain Independent which in July announced that it was making her its North American bureau chief, based in Atlanta. Describing her as a "veteran investigative journalist", it said: "She comes with over a decade of experience in reporting on the Middle East and North Africa and was previously based in Cairo."

On Tuesday, though, further questions were raised. Marc Owen Jones, a Durham University PhD student whose research includes "how the regime in Bahrain is using social media as a tool of surveillance and social control", published a very detailed dossier asking (among other things) whether Liliane Khalil really exists. Considering that she is supposed to have been reporting for more than 10 years, there is very little information about her on the internet (even less now, because some of it has been deleted recently), and examples of her published work are very scarce.

This is where the story starts to have echoes of the "Twitter profile bears a striking resemblance to that of a person on LinkedIn. The LinkedIn person is Gisele Cohen, described as an "HIV/AIDS case manager and patient advocate at Union Healthcare of Atlanta". Rather oddly, Gisele Cohen has no "connections" with others on LinkedIn. (There are other similarities between Liliane Khalil and Gisele Cohen which have been documented in Marc Owen Jones's blog.)

After several days' silence on Twitter, Liliane Khalil resurfaced on Tuesday, describing the allegations against her as "nonsense". She is apparently in hospital recovering from a back operation, which may explain her reluctance to answer questions. Her final post on Tuesday was:

"I'm through. And, please, no other journos ask me for an interview. This is not that serious. This is not a news story. At all."