There's yet another twist in the story of Yahya Ababneh, the mystery journalist who reported claims that Saudi Arabia supplied chemical weapons to Syrian rebels. After more than a month's silence since the claims were published on an American "advocacy journalism" website, Ababneh has now surfaced – apparently in Iran.
An article for BuzzFeed by Rosie Gray quotes emails sent by Ababneh, a Jordanian who also uses the name Yan Barakat:
Ababneh revealed that he was currently in Iran: “I am really busy with my master study because that I am in Tehran ( just Try to write my paper in master to see their media and their opinion about Arab spring), also since 3 months try to get this visa for vacation.”
Besides working as a freelance journalist, Ababneh is "currently working on a master’s degree in journalism", according to Mint Press News, which first published the allegations about Saudi-supplied chemical weapons. The BuzzFeed article continues:
He refused to elaborate further on what exactly he was doing there [in Iran].
“All what can I say for you : I wrote to many media organisations who they will write about me soon,” Ababneh wrote. “I did not writ [sic] my name before because I had a good connect between the regimes and rebels in libya and syria. Now after my name were every where I think I must find another job.”
According to Ababneh's profile on LinkedIn, the professional networking website, he has carried out journalistic assignments "in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Libya for clients such as al-Jazeera, al-Quds al-Arabi, Amman Net, and other publications".
So far, though, no evidence has emerged to support these claims. Apart from the Mint Press article (which also carried the by-line of AP correspondent Dale Gavlak), internet searches in English and Arabic for other articles that carry his byline have drawn a blank.
A single article under his alternative name appeared in the Jerusalem Post. Last week, Amman Net, one of the Jordanian news organisations that Ababneh claims to have worked for published an article headed: "Who is Yahya Ababneh?" According to Amman Net, his work has not been published on any Jordanian websites.
He is known to have visited St Petersburg in Russia but there is no evidence that this was a journalistic assignment. In one of the emails quoted by BuzzFeed he says he was only there for a week to visit a friend.
BuzzFeed also quotes him as saying "I don't publish my true name all times" – which raises the possibility that he may have written under other names that are as yet unknown.
Last weekend, a comment purporting to come from a friend of Ababneh was posted several times in discussion threads relating to Ababneh at al-bab.com.
The comment claimed that Ababneh was the first journalist to visit Benghazi in Libya after the killing of the US ambassador last year.
It also included a photograph of a child, with the advice: "Check who take this picture and how many picture he published." The photograph, which has been widely used, seems to have been taken by a Turkish phographer in 2009.
The comments came from an unverified email address (email@example.com) with the user name "kristina - Lebanon". A check on the sender's IP address (220.127.116.11) indicated a server in Iran.
Despite the lack of a verified email address, I thought the comments were interesting and decided to leave them in the thread but I posted a note questioning their authenticity and indicating that they came from Iran.
Shortly after I posted the sceptical note, a visitor to al-bab flagged the original comments from "Kristina" for moderation. Whoever flagged them was using the same IP address in Iran as the original commenter.
The Iran-Ababneh connection is intriguing but I'm not sure that it casts much light on his political views. There are indications that point in a variety of directions:
When using his Yan Barakat persona, Ababneh seems well-disposed towards Israel. Besides the article in the Jerusalem Post he has been involved with the CouchSurfing movement.
He has also expressed enthusiasm for Russia (as a country) and says he was befriended by some Russians in Syria who told him rebels caused the chemical weapons deaths on August 21.
According to the BuzzFeed emails he had "a good connect between the regimes and rebels in Libya and Syria".
Also, according to BuzzFeed, he sent an "essay" to the US embassy in Jordan urging the US to curb Saudi influence in the Middle East.
A further Iranian connection (but not a pro-regime one) appeared on Ababneh's now-deleted LinkedIn profile where he had received a number of endorsements from two people. One was Sufian Ababneh, a legal adviser at the Jordanian embassy in London, and the other was Ghazal Omid of the Iran Future organisation.
Ghazal Omid is the daughter of an Iranian multi-millionaire who fled after the fall of the Shah. Omid now lives in Canada and is the author of a book, "Living In Hell: A True Odyssey of a Woman's Struggle in Islamic Iran Against Personal and Political Forces".
Posted by Brian Whitaker
Wednesday, 2 October 2013
UPDATE, 3 July 2014: I have recently had email correspondence with Ghazal Omid who states that despite her endorsement of Yahya Ababneh on LinkedIn she does not actually know him. She says that he endorsed her on LinkedIn and that she endorsed him in return, "to be polite". - See more at: http://www.al-bab.com/blog/2013/october/ababneh-trail-leads-to-iran.htm#...