The young woman who achieved notoriety for a short stint as media adviser to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad downplayed the significance of her role in the brutal regime, telling The Daily Telegraph she had been made a “scapegoat.”
"Any ambitious American girl would do the same thing I did,” Sheherazad Jaafari told The Daily Telegraph. “You get an interesting offer, you challenge yourself and you go for it.”
Jaafari, who is the daughter of Syria's ambassador to the United Nations, reportedly spent three months working for al-Assad, during which she helped set Barbara Walters up with an exclusive interview with the dictator.
While Jaafari maintains she was just an intern with minimal responsibility, she was apparently close enough to al-Assad to write "hey handsome" and "I love u" in emails obtained by CNN.
Jaafari was recently accepted to Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs, where she will start as a graduate student in the fall. Barbara Walters, who advocated on behalf of Jaafari in emails to a Columbia University journalism professor, has since apologized for intervening.
Syrian rights groups have demanded Columbia University rescind Jaafari's admission. “We are outraged with what is happening,” a spokesman for the National Alliance for Syria, Sarab al-Jijakli, told the New York Post. “Columbia and Barbara Walters must ensure that they right the wrong and not accept someone from the inner circle of the al-Assad regime into their university."
In an email to Fox News, Jaafari said contrary to reports, she was not an aide to al-Assad. "My duties were limited to fulfill instructions related to communicating with some English-speaking media reporters under the supervision of the media advisers," she wrote. “I volunteered as an intern in the Syrian media and communication circles... During these three months I was never on payroll.”
In an earlier leaked email to a friend, she described her time in Syria as "a challenging experience but its good for my cv and thats all i care about now".
According to U.N. estimates, more than 10,000 people have been killed in Syria since the start of the violence in March 2011. On Thursday, Amnesty International accused the Syrian government of attacks on towns and villages amount to crimes against humanity. Syria's government says it is fighting foreign-backed "terrorists" who are to blame for killing hundreds of soldiers and police.
When asked if Jaafari believed the Syrian governments claim that mass civilian killings was the work of terrorists, and not government forces, Jafarri deferred. “I wasn’t into all these details," she said.