The author of a series of opinion pieces recently published online in Qatar, which were widely shared because of their message and content, has been deemed a fraud.
Local news portal Qatar Chronicle today has published an apology to its readers after discovering that two of its “Citizen Journalists,” both using the surname of Qatar’s ruling family, were not who they claimed to be.
Concurrently, Jassim bin Sosibo Al Thani (also known as Ibn Sosibo Al Thani) and Ahmed bin Hamad Al Thani have erased their digital footprints, including their Facebook profiles, Twitter accounts and email addresses. Reports of Ibn Sosibo’s death have also been circulating over the past few days.
It is unclear why Ibn Sosibo and others would go to such great lengths to dupe readers.
Last year, Qatar Chronicle published five opinion articles by the writers, the most popular of which involved a lengthy rebuttal of “slave labor” allegations made by the UK’s Guardian newspaper.
In that column, Ibn Sosibo called the article “nothing but a comic explosion of racialised nonsense further tinged by cultural cringe, on which detailed comment may safely be relegated to a footnote.” All five articles have now been taken off the Chronicle’s website.
Both men also emailed Doha News regarding potential guest posts, but none were ever published on the site.
Under his identity as a member of the Al Thani clan, Ibn Sosibo expressed a number of forthright opinions in his columns, suggesting for example that the exit permit system be scrapped, and calling for the naturalization of expats born in Qatar.
It was this break from “mainstream Qatari thinking” that led journalist James Dorsey to first question the writer’s identity in an article last month:
“Members of the extended ruling Al Thani family and others knowledgeable about Qatari affairs have questioned Mr. Al Thani’s identity. They note that he is not listed in a family tree, is unknown to other Al Thanis who have been unable to ascertain his identity, writes his name in a way that deviates from family norms and that his online presence on social media dates back only to September.
Fuelling speculation, Ms. (Aani) Khathon, the Chronicle’s associate editor, refused to entertain questions on whether Mr. Al Thani was a member of the ruling family.”
Qatar Chronicle did not respond to questions for comment today.
Speaking to Doha News, Dorsey confirmed that he had exchanged emails with the author, but that Ibn Sosibo had failed to respond to questions regarding his identity. Dorsey added that despite this new development, Ibn Sosibo’s perspective remains a valid one:
“The credibility of the author(s) has been substantially undermined by seeking to give their views currency and authority by implying falsely that they are members of the ruling family” he said. “While this discredits the author(s) and raises questions about the validity of their views, it does not render those views valueless per se.”
Jassim bin Sosibo Al Thani may have only had an online presence for a few months, but his footprint was extensive.
He had a blog, a LinkedIn profile, a Twitter account, a Google Plus account and a Facebook page. All no longer exist. He also had several email addresses, all of which have been deactivated. Several photos pertaining to be him were used on these profiles.
In its apology, the Chronicle asserted that Ibn Sosibo had recruited various Twitter and Facebook friends to pretend to be well-connected Qataris, commenting on his articles and suggesting a well-established career as a policy strategist and businessman.
He also said that the columnist’s name had been added to the “Jaber bin Muhammed Al Thani” branch of the Royal family on Wikipedia. It remained there as of 3pm on Tuesday, Jan. 7.
Despite Ibn Sosibo’s wide-reaching online presence, Qatar resident Lisa Bseiso said she had begun to find the columnist suspicious after chatting with him online. Speaking to Doha News, she said:
“He told me he was the illegitimate son of a prominent Qatari and an African princess. He said he’d only come to Qatar recently. He sent me a photo of him, and it showed him sitting next to a bottle of whisky. Given his image as a conservative Islamic man, this seemed very odd.
He (also) claimed he worked for the Public and Research Authority in Qatar, and the Qatar Intelligence Authority. Neither exist, as far as I know. He told me he was helping people who wanted to come to Qatar.”
UAE-based blogger Diego Lopez also spoke of his online encounter with Ibn Sosibo after he published a post reacting to one of the columnist’s articles. He said he researched the writer’s identity in detail before writing about him:
“His profile, even if extremely rare, seemed to be real, including his poems and pictures of the Qatari desert and sentiment on Facebook, and his detailed profile in LinkedIn,” Lopez said.
“But it is true that there were few red flags. He was also looking actively at his mentions on the net. My blog is not too known and he still managed to find my post just a few hours after I wrote it, and commented on it, from a computer in Durban, South Africa. His comment was rather informal: “Hi Diego. good take I must say. please tell me how do you know about my age? and oh yes my mother is an African black as Abedi pele.””
Ibn Sosibo’s online contacts were shocked last Friday, Jan. 3, when a woman claiming to be his sister announced his death on his Facebook page:
“It is with deepest regret and sorrow to state that Jassim bin Ahmed bin Nasser Al Thani (Ibn Sosibo Al Thani) passed away last ight after a long illness. Innaa lilaahi wa inna ilayhi raaji’oon. He will be buried in Al Rayan, state of Qatar, this morning. His unexpected death has shattered us all and we ask for your prayers. Thank you. Aisha bint Ahmed bin Nasser Al Thani.”
Despite the Chronicle’s statement, and Ibn Sosibo’s online disappearance, the columnist still has some fans. Among them: Spaniard Inma Serrano, who published a publicly shared obituary on her Facebook page on Friday.
In it, she said: “You were a super good man, brave heart, bright mind & generous soul. My sincere condolences to your family…I really loved Jassim a lot.”
Serrano has not responded to a request for comment.