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The Beginning Of My Ascendance - My Sister, Nicole Vienneau, Has Gone Missing in Syria
April 22nd, 2007
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My Sister, Nicole Vienneau, Has Gone Missing in Syria

(*The blog is no longer being updated regularly due to the civil war in Syria. Should the situation change or any breakthroughs be achieved, I will post it here*)

Nicole

Summary        

My sister, Jacqueline "Nicole" Vienneau, a Canadian tourist, disappeared in Syria on Saturday, March 31st, 2007 at the age of 32. She was in her fifth month of a six-month solo adventure through West Africa and the Middle East. She was last seen by the desk clerk at 8:30 in the morning as she left the Cairo Hotel in Hama, two hours north of Damascus.

Nicole

She definitely intended to return to the hotel as her backpack was left in her room along with the memory cards from her camera, full of photos. She also left her journals that include an entry made the night before she disappeared. Canadian police retrieved her Hotmail account email records indicating she attempted to login around 8:30 Friday night but was unable to (Syrian Internet connections are not reliable). Her last completed emails were sent Thursday night.

Nicole's guidebook was also left in her room. In the back of her Lonely Planet "Middle East" guidebook she wrote directions to a number of places in Syria that we believe she copied from the Cairo Hotel's copy of the Lonely Planet "Syria" guidebook. Nicole spoke with some guests about these locations earlier in the week and the hotel clerk indicated that on the morning she disappeared, she asked for directions to the "Beehive Houses", a local sightseeing destination, as well as Qasr Ibn Wardan (a nearby castle).

Nicole

No one at these locations recalls seeing Nicole (and they are not heavily visited) and the Qasr Ibn Wardan logbook has a record of only one visitor, Amin Ben Yahia, a person of interest to us (b. 1984, Algerian/Swiss nationality, father is Abbas, mother is Monica) in hopes that he remembers something unusual about that day.

Nicole preferred taking local transit, but none of the minibus drivers or locals remembers seeing her. As a foreigner, Nicole stood out in all of Syria, but particularly in Hama where the majority of women in Hama dress in robes and cover their hair. The streets from the hotel to the minibus pick-up are main streets with lots of people, even at 8:30 in the morning.

Nicole

In May 2007, I flew to Syria with Nicole's fiancé Gary to re-trace her steps and meet with police and local officials. Gary spent an additional two months criss-crossing Syria searching for clues. My mother joined Gary in Syria in July 2007 and met with the Grand Mufti as well as the Minister of the Interior. She also made a personal plea on Syrian television and we put ads in the newspapers and local flyers. Gary and my mother returned to Syria in April 2008 to raise awareness and follow up on leads with officials and the police.

My mother returned to Syria with Gary for a third visit in March 2009 and we continue to work with Syrian government and police officials on the investigation.

There is up to 2,250,000 Syrian pounds ($45,000) in reward money for information leading us to Nicole.

We are currently looking for other guests at the Cairo Hotel in case they spoke with Nicole. A list is at the bottom of this page.

Nicole

For pictures of Nicole and what she was wearing when she disappeared, as well as relevant personal information and summaries of the search so far, please visit:

http://www.findnicolevienneau.com/

From the "official" website, you can also submit anonymous tips, view the picture gallery and download posters and Nicole's notes. Arabic versions of most pages are also available.


You can always email me directly and anonymously at mattv99@hotmail.com

All comments and emails, public and private, are read immediately, but unfortunately I cannot respond to everyone. Feel free to respond in any language that you're comfortable with, though all of my responses will likely be in English.

Nicole

March 31st, 2012 (Afternoon):

Today marks five years since Nicole disappeared from the Cairo Hotel or in the vicinity in Hama. Despite five years of searching, we really have no new clues as to what has happened to her, though we strongly suspect one of the hotel staff was involved.

Syria today is very different from Syria of five years ago. There are certainly no tourists in Hama anymore, and there probably won't be any going there in the immediate future either.

Hollywood tells us that stories always have an ending, but unfortunately that's just not true. In those first few weeks we were so confident we'd figure out what happened. And then as each lead dried up the worry in the back of our minds increased, "what if we never find her?". That has turned out to be the case and we may end up being one of those families still searching 20 or 30 years later. You can never really give up.

An old friend of Nicole's has been putting huge amounts of effort into finding her. He's been posting on Twitter and updating a blog with details. You can read some updates here, here, and here.

Other people continue to offer suggestions and take action. It is very difficult to keep up hope after so much time has passed. All we need is one person who knows or suspects what happens to come to us, but they'll probably be in Syria and unlikely to have access to us anymore. Hopefully one day.

March 6th, 2012 (Afternoon):

Canada has withdrawn all diplomats and government staff from Syria. All Canadians have been urged to leave Syria. As per the official Government of Canada Travel Report:

"Civil unrest and demonstrations have been occurring in many Syrian cities since March 2011. There has been extensive use of force by the security forces and military in suppressing demonstrations across the country. Many casualties and fatalities have been reported and protests and violent repression are likely to continue. Security operations have involved the complete lock-down of entire towns for periods varying from a few days to a few weeks. This may take place with little warning."

Needless to say, our hopes of getting any information about what happened to Nicole have diminished greatly in the short term.

February 11th, 2012 (Morning):

Syria continues to be in the news as world opinion is slowly being swayed by the stories of what is happening. Once again, no progress on our search as we approach nearly five years since Nicole went missing. To think that at first I thought this could be resolved in five days or at worse, five weeks!

January 7th, 2012 (Afternoon):

Another month of chaos in Syria. In early 2011, the violence in Syria wasn't making the international news very frequently, but that has certainly changed. It is not surprising that we have heard nothing from Syrian officials, Canadian embassy officials, or our own contacts within Syria. This makes it difficult to move forward in the search.

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Current Mood: worriedworried
Current Music: Gerard McMann - "Cry Little Sister"
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:August 24th, 2007 03:47 am (UTC)
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Hello,

I've been following your sister's story off and on since it was first reported in the media, and I wanted to extend my condolences to your family. This may be a minor observation, and based on only one sample (the few pages of the hotel log book you included), but was anyone able to shed some light on why Nicole's entry looks different from the others? I noticed that one or two of the columns are blank when compared to all the other ones on the pages, including the column that may relate to the day she checked in (?). Is that the original document, or did someone copy it out for you? As well, I find it odd that they were sure she left the hotel, although no one outside of the hotel, like at the bus stop, remembers having seen her. I'm not trying to insinuate that anyone at the hotel is involved in her disappearance, but in my opinion, it seems to be the weakest link. I very much hope your family gets closure soon.
[User Picture]
From:vienneau
Date:August 24th, 2007 11:13 pm (UTC)
(Link)

Which photo are you looking at - do you have a link?

I wanted to see what you're talking about so I looked at this image:

http://vintagevocalslabel.com/Citadel%201.JPG

And her first name is in the wrong spot, but I believe that column is for the departure date and other notes and she never checked out.

Is that the image you're looking at? There are a lot of photos and translations floating around, so it's tough to keep track.
logbook - (Anonymous) - Expand
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re citadel%201.jpg - (Anonymous) - Expand
From:thassan
Date:August 27th, 2007 09:23 pm (UTC)

New Article Arabic (Syria-News)

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Hi Matt,

new article posted on Syria news website about Nicole.

check this out:
http://www.syria-news.com/readnews.php?sy_seq=60740

it's talking about 2 felons from spain trying to blackmail you
saying that they are hiding your sister.

bbye.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:August 28th, 2007 06:31 am (UTC)

Hello

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Hello ..
This is Kamel From Syria ..
I want u to know that all syrians here very sad and we want your sister come back safely
so just join us praying and asking god to bless and keep her
with real honestly feelings
Kamel
From:(Anonymous)
Date:August 30th, 2007 01:09 am (UTC)

From Lattakia

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am a Syrian too,i know how u all feel,and there is nothing that i can say to make u feel better,we all wish we can help somehow.

From:(Anonymous)
Date:August 30th, 2007 01:58 pm (UTC)

SYRIAN ONE

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I WISH YOU FIND HER
From:(Anonymous)
Date:August 30th, 2007 02:40 pm (UTC)

The Guest List

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Hi Matt,

I've come across your search for your sister just today. As I was checking the guest list, would it be possible that your country formally request the country of origin of these four people listed before your sister, so that they can contact these people? I'm specifically talking about the Citadel Guestlist with date of arrival of March 25, 2007. The list contains the passport numbers. The page may have been translated already to you.
I hope your sister will be located very soon. Be strong. God bless!
From:chesterama
Date:September 6th, 2007 01:03 am (UTC)

American media

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Matthew...if you're still looking for ways to get media coverage in the States, could the journalist William Powers perhaps help you with this?
From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 6th, 2007 12:21 pm (UTC)

Re: American media

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NationalJournal.com appears to be a mostly politics-centered blog, but I wouldn't doubt that Mr. Powers may know people in the industry who may take an interest in publishing the story in the American media.
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Re: American media - (Anonymous) - Expand
From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 7th, 2007 05:56 am (UTC)

quick few notes

(Link)
I found those links online,you might like to look into it.

http://www.fullerton.edu/arts/music/faculty_staff/powers.htm


http://profiles.friendster.com/25744485#moreabout_1_5

if it is possible,can you please post the arabic registration form(guest list) for cairo hotel, it is possible that an arabic native speaker ,translate the surnames or names diffrently.
we could easily be looking for powell instead of powers...

From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 8th, 2007 06:04 am (UTC)

Re: Powell instead of Powers?

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That's a really interesting suggestion. A quick google search for "William and Kathryn Powell + Syria" (and all the other combinations like Bill and Kathy, Will and Cathy, etc) brings back numerous interesting possibilities.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 14th, 2007 12:08 pm (UTC)

mardis fukse-suggestion

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sounds like a German name to me: Matthias Fuchs (means Fox in german)
((())) Rasu
From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 14th, 2007 05:30 pm (UTC)

Re: mardis fukse-suggestion

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Also for the Lu family, it is very common for Chinese or Taiwanese immigrants to give themselves "nicknames" with American spellings, however these nicknames would not be included on any legal documents. Is it not possible to find them through their passport numbers?
From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 16th, 2007 10:55 pm (UTC)

European living in Syria

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Really it disturbs me to imagine your pain and i pray for a positive outcome.
In the worst case scenario , which you have said sadly is how things seem to be, i would like to ask one question ( and i sincerely hope that this is not the case ).
If someone wanted to hide a body quickly they might choose water and i wondered if the famous river Orontes ( i think ) had been searched in the city of Hama.
I live in Syria, but don't know if the Police in there search would automatically put Police divers into operation. Sorry to think of such a thing, but its just a suggestion.
Our hearts with you.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 19th, 2007 03:41 am (UTC)

Doh Middle Names

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Why didn't I remember this before? It has happened to me several times in Arab countries - including Syria. For some reason they always take my middle name as either my first name or last name. I think they get confused by the passport layout and how our names are different. (Arabs commonly use their fathers name as their last name and the family name less often).

So you might want to consider these names you are looking for might be a middle name somehow. It has happened to me in both directions. My middle name used as my first name and as my last name.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 19th, 2007 03:49 am (UTC)

Re: Doh Middle Names

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One more thing, you might want to consider when they wrote down a name that they might have seen an english letter that looks similar somehow to an arabic letter and they wrote the arabic instead. What I mean is, they might read the english ...for eample the letter Z and in their mind they might have thought of the 'k' in Arabic and wrote down a K in english. Does this make sense?

Same with numbers. They might see the number Zero in english and think 5 in arabic and write down five in English because that is how they read it in their head. It happens if one is not paying attention.

So you might want to have someone consider the possible combos and make an alternate list of names and numbers.

I have some close friends abroad who have family in salamiyah. I will get in contact with them so they can get the local gossip from back home. They will definitely tell me anything they have heard.

From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 19th, 2007 04:06 am (UTC)

Reward: Make it more for her being returned alive.

(Link)
Also, I think you should consider making the reward more for her being returned alive than dead (although offer some for that too).

From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 26th, 2007 02:19 am (UTC)

Re: Reward: Make it more for her being returned alive.

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there is a reward now of 1,000,000 SYP (20,000 USD) how much more do you think it should be for her being returned alive?
From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 19th, 2007 02:46 pm (UTC)

Faxon

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Assuming that the last name has been transliterated correctly, Faxon seems like to good bet for the last name of "Mardis", as it is a fairly popular surname in the U.S. (closely related to Faxen or Foxon or Foxen). The first name is a complete mystery though... I think the above suggestions are good ones - what are the most likely "errors" that might have been made by the person writing the first name?

I am one of the many people (I am sure) who do check your journal often, and I hope you find your answers soon.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 20th, 2007 11:15 pm (UTC)

Re: Faxon - could it be Jackson?

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Matt,
I was also thinking that this individual could be: Markus Jackson. The F and J can sometimes be similar in arabic (with the dot being either above or below the line). A hurried writer might make that mistake or not pay attention to his writing.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 19th, 2007 03:43 pm (UTC)

Citadel Hotel list

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You have a "Jijian Robert Nicoud" listed on the Citadel list as being from Switzerland.

There is a "Ghislaine Robert-Nicoud" in Neuchatel, Switzerland, and I'm wondering if Jijian = Ghislaine (since it is pronounced "Jeezlan").

I can't find an email contact for her. Maybe someone else will have some luck.

From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 20th, 2007 11:18 am (UTC)

Re: Citadel Hotel list

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That would actually make sense. The letter jeem (soft j) is often pronounced with a hard G in say Egypt for example (but usually the soft j in syria). I could see someone not overly great with english just intermixing the G and J easily although I don't know why they wouldn't just copy it from the passport as it is. Are these lists from passports or are they just the person listening and writing?

I myself will alternate with the pronounciation of jeem as a soft j or a hard g just depending on my mood. As I said however, that is more of an Egyptian thing. Of course this is the Cairo hotel right? Any connection with them to Egypt... are the people working there or owning it egyptian?
From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 19th, 2007 03:44 pm (UTC)

Suggestion for Robert Nicoud on Citadel Hotel list

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You have a "Jijian Robert Nicoud" listed on the Citadel list as being from Switzerland.

There is a "Ghislaine Robert-Nicoud" in Neuchatel, Switzerland, and I'm wondering if Jijian = Ghislaine (since it is pronounced "Jeezlan").

I can't find an email contact for her. Maybe someone else will have some luck.

From:chesterama
Date:September 21st, 2007 09:17 am (UTC)

Citadel Hotel

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I think the first name is Vivian-if you look at the photo of that page, there is the name "Eva" further up-the "v" looks like a "j". Another example is the name listed as "Flajta"-I think it's actually "Flavia". I've already searched on Facebook without success-also myspace, but I didn't think to hyphenate the surname. I'll give that a try.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 21st, 2007 01:45 pm (UTC)

Vivian

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I think you are right - now that I look at the name "Eva" above, I'm also convinced the name is Vivian (or possible Vivien). Robert-Nicoud is a fairly popular Swiss surname - and if you look closely it does look like the writer recorded the hyphen.

So there is a good chance the person is "Vivian Robert-Nicoud" or "Vivien Robert-Nicoud". I looked in the Swiss phone book and there is no listed number under those names.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 24th, 2007 07:58 am (UTC)

check with syrian embassies abroad

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all non arab entering syria need a visa, no one is getting visa without syrian embassy or immigration authorities getting a photocopy of their passports. so the best you can do looking for those guests at hotels is to contcact syrian embassies in their countries.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 25th, 2007 03:10 am (UTC)

Post a Digg button on the top of this page

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Matt, I think you should post a Digg button on top of this page to generate more awareness. So many visitors, this thing could go viral. I know it made the front page of Digg a while ago, but perhaps we can do it again.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:October 6th, 2007 02:47 am (UTC)

refugee camps

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Has any one thought to check out refugee camps in Syria and surrounding area?
From:(Anonymous)
Date:October 6th, 2007 02:59 am (UTC)

Hotel

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It is strange that no one saw Nicole after she left the hotel. So maybe something happened and she never left the hotel of her own free will. It would be interesting to know if any of the staff has any illegal ties to human trafficking /sex trade or people involved in it. Or even a criminal record. I am curious if anyone has quit working there since Nicole has disappeared.

Anyways ...just a few ideas.
C
From:(Anonymous)
Date:October 7th, 2007 05:59 pm (UTC)

Suggesting the story to CBC News Sunday

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Hey Matt,
Good suggestion for others to suggest Nicole's story to America's Most Wanted and The Fifth Estate. I did that... then also made a similiar suggestion to CBC News Sunday here: http://www.cbc.ca/sunday/contact.html.

I know you are desparate to get into the US media, but continued expanded Canadian media can't hurt, as a lot of Americans and ex-pats do watch CBC. I'm hopeful that the folks at CBC News Sunday will simply get curious if they get endless story suggestions on Nicole, and will just have to find out more. I dunno, but it's worth a try.

My heart goes out to you at the six month mark, and your posting about how hard it was for you to see pictures of Nicole. ***Hugs*** I somehow remain hopeful that you will learn what happened.

Roberta
From:(Anonymous)
Date:October 7th, 2007 06:05 pm (UTC)

Scouring the jails

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Hey Matt,

With regards to this bit from your recent post:

A story was sent to me of someone who found a missing person in Syria by visiting the jails until he was found. We have often considered that she might be lost in a Syrian jail, but I never thought it possible that the Syrians would let us visit them and look for ourselves. Exactly how does one look at all the female prisoners and see if any of them are recognizable? Or do you bring a photo and ask the warden? This may be something on the agenda for when we next return.

It strikes me that this is something you might be able to get volunteers IN Syria do on your behalf; I believe you have made some contact with locals who are willing to help. If there's a thread of possibility in it, maybe it shouldn't wait until your next trip, unless that's really soon... Or if local volunteers could cover that ground first, then you or Gary could go back to the locations that were less conclusive....

Just a thought,
Roberta
[User Picture]
From:vienneau
Date:October 13th, 2007 11:43 pm (UTC)

Re: Scouring the jails

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At this point, we have people backing off from helping from within Syria because they don't want the police attention. Similarly, we have people who are pleading with us not to release their names to anyone (which we never do). Thus, most of our internal volunteers are foreigners who are travelling through the region, and I'm not sure even they could be convinced to visit the jails. I'd hate to ask someone, only to have something happen to them.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:October 9th, 2007 01:21 am (UTC)

Try using police dogs

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A recent discovery of a missing child in Europe is detected by police dogs. Bring a special breed of its kind well trained and track her supposed road itinerary starting from the hotel. I feel really sorry for her disappearance and hope you would have good news about her soon. At least she should have kept a cellphone in her pocket to keep her in touch with the world around her especially in that foreign country she knows nothing about.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:October 10th, 2007 05:01 pm (UTC)

Re: Try using police dogs

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6 mths missing is way past the time frame where search dogs would be of any use. the reason people travel to other countries, is exactly that...because they know nothing about it, I guess she wanted to find out. People who treck around the world with nothing but a back pack carry cameras, not cell phones.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:October 15th, 2007 10:28 pm (UTC)

Privacy concerns

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ok it is one thing to try to find guests to see if they can provide tips..but something totally different to post their university, the courses they took and the ones they passed..I know your frustrations with regards to the search..but you have to respect other people's rihgts to privacy..
I know this info has been posted on the net..but it wasn't meant for some strangers to be recycling it. Name and university would have been adequate.
Anyway...this is my opinion and I am sticking with it.
From:chesterama
Date:October 16th, 2007 11:30 am (UTC)

Re: Privacy concerns

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This route wouldn't have to be taken if foreign embassies had actually contacted their citizens and asked them to provide any assistance they could to Matthew. In all likelihood, these people don't have any relevant information about Nicole; but it would only take one to say that they did speak with her, and possibly send the search in a new direction.
Plus, if information is on the Web, then it's there for any and all to see it. Maybe the students at that school should protest the public dissemination of their academic information. Until that time, it's fair game.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:October 17th, 2007 08:34 pm (UTC)

guests

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without trying to implicate anyone or suggest a guest is responsible for anything at all - i do wonder whether you are truly able to evaluate by email and or phone contact whether those that say they have no info/memory are indeed giving you the straight goods - on the positive side i wish to encourage you and know that something will come down the road completely out of the blue, always does eventually - fh
[User Picture]
From:vienneau
Date:October 18th, 2007 03:54 pm (UTC)

Re: guests

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You are absolutely correct - we can't tell if someone is lying to us or was somehow involved just from emailing them.

Unfortunately, we have no mechanism (other than flying around the world to visit these people) for checking that, so it's something we've accepted and we're just hoping to find an innocent witness who might be able to provide additional information.

In general, it's difficult to pull something like this off as a traveller in Syria. You stick out, you have limited resources, limited knowledge of the area, and it's a police state where they're watching you. Not to mention the Syrian police would love to be able to blame this on a foreigner (any government would), so they're going to investigate that option as much as possible.

Thus, we assume it's not a guest behind Nicole's disappearance.
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