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Syrian envoy to France claims she was impersonated

French news channel believed to have fallen for hoax caller

Lamia Shakkour
Image Credit: AFP
Lamia Shakkour
Gulf News

Paris: Syria's Ambassador to France, Lamia Shakkour, said Wednesday that someone had impersonated her and announced her resignation on French TV amid increasing uncertainty about her country's future.

The apparently false resignation raised questions about how a respected French news channel, France 24, might have fallen for a hoax.

France 24 said Wednesday that it is investigating that possibility. It also underscored the complexity of the message coming out of Syria, where the government keeps tight control on information.

France 24 aired a telephone interview on Tuesday with a woman who said she was Ambassador Shakkour. Asked about violence in Syria, the woman abruptly said she was resigning as ambassador, to the surprise of the questioner. Shakkour later denied having quit.

She appeared on camera for the first time on France's BFM television early Wednesday and said: "I am completely surprised".

She accused France 24 of "impersonating the Syrian ambassador" and said she would sue France 24. Speaking in front of a photo of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad — placed at her insistence — Shakkour said she would stay ambassador as long as Al Assad wanted her to.

Philippe DiNacera, deputy editor at France 24, said Wednesday the channel had called an embassy number to ask the ambassador to participate in a debate.

He said they used a number they had used before and were told by a man, who said he was a political counsellor, to send an e-mail with the request.

The man responded, sent a photo of the ambassador and a cell number for the interview.

"We had no reason to question the identity of the person we were calling or to authenticate her declarations," DiNacera said.