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My Sister, Nicole Vienneau, Has Gone Missing in Syria - The Beginning Of My Ascendance Page 4
April 22nd, 2007
10:59 am

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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(*The blog is no longer being updated regularly due to the civil war in Syria.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:May 1st, 2007 04:58 pm (UTC)

your best bet, contact couchsurfing.com

(Link)
post this there. couchsurfers of the world unite!

[User Picture]
From:somuchforhope
Date:May 1st, 2007 05:35 pm (UTC)
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I'm not sure how or if I can help you, but I'm an American who has been living in Syria for the past year and four months working on a travel guide to the country, so I know the place fairly well and am familiar with people working at budget/backpacker hotels throughout the country.

First of all, if you want someone here to contact directly, you call my mobile anytime at +963 98-8453830. My name is Daniel.

It is highly unusual for any foreigner to 'disappear' in Syria, so I want to suggest a few possibilities.

One of the most popular backpacker stops in Syria nowadays is a monastery called Deir Mar Musa. It is fairly isolated out in the mountains east of a village called al-Nabk. They have a telephone (which I'll try to get the number of), but no internet access. Many people visit this monastery intending just to stay a night, and end up staying for weeks or even months.

Syrian authorities keep records of all hotel registries - so, while dealing with their bureaucracy will liking be incredibly time consuming, they will have records of exactly where she stayed and when. Of course they'll also have records of arrivals and departures, and I don't think it would be too difficult for the Canadian embassy to contact authorities and determine whether she is in the country or not. Keep in mind that, even if she only had a one month visa, they are easily extended for months longer. And many travelers end up spending far more time in Syria than they initially plan.

Popular budget/backpacker hotels are:

Damascus - al-Haramain, al-Rabie, Ghazal, al-Saadeh
Hama - Cairo Hotel, Riad Hotel
Aleppo - Spring Flower Hostel, Tourist Hotel, al-Ghawaher
Lattakia - Lattakia Hotel, Safwan Hotel
Tartus - Daniel Hotel

One of the staff at all of these hotels should be able to speak English if contacted by telephone. I have friends working at a few of these hotels and will contact them myself if you'd like. I speak a little Arabic, and obviously have access to many people to translate if need be.

I don't think her being seriously injured or killed in a car or bus accident is likely, because the Syrian government would likely notify Canada's embassy pretty quickly if that happened. The Syrian government generally looks over foreigners quite diligently.

Your sister actually does look familiar, but I run into so many other travelers recently (it has been very busy these last 2 months), I can't say I've seen her for sure.

Either way, I hope I can help. My e-mail address is in my profile.
[User Picture]
From:somuchforhope
Date:May 1st, 2007 06:27 pm (UTC)
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P.S. I've added you on MSN - ourlivesareparallel@hotmail.com
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 1st, 2007 06:02 pm (UTC)

internet access in Syria

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coming from a Syrian origin, and now living in Canada.. you should know that getting internet access in Syria is extremely difficult (if not impossible) if you're not in a major city (and there are only 3 major cities in Syria).. and due to censorship all access to most free emails is blocked.. so not hotmail or yahoo mail is easily accessible... people know how to bypass the security from their homes, but I have no idea how easy that is from public internet cafes (if she is in a place that has any)..

I am not propagating anything, but it is not in the nature of Syrian people to harass tourists.. they are usually very welcoming and helpful.. of course it is a third world country where people live in very difficult financial situations.. but i haven't heard of any stories about kidnapped tourists before... I have been out from there for the past 10 years so I can't say for sure.. but don't worry.. Canadians are on the top 5 list of nationalities in Syria..

best of luck, we have your blog posted on all Syrian blog aggregators and if anyone knows anything they know how to contact you.

keep the hopes up..
[User Picture]
From:somuchforhope
Date:May 1st, 2007 06:25 pm (UTC)

Re: internet access in Syria

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Internet access in Syria is very easy to find these days. It has really changed quickly in the last 5-10 years. There are numerous internet cafes in Damascus, Homs, Hama, Aleppo, Tartus, Lattakia, Tadmor (Palmyra) and even many small towns like Bludan, Kassab, etc. The only fairly large town/city I haven't found an internet cafe in is al-Raqqa, though there isn't much reason to stay there for more than a couple days!

They haven't attempted to censor Hotmail or Yahoo! Mail in awhile, either, because most internet cafes were just using proxies to get around the blocks. I haven't had trouble accessing either in atleast one year.
[User Picture]
From:anarekist
Date:May 1st, 2007 09:29 pm (UTC)
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wow man, this is scary, i gave you a digg, not much else i can do:(

i really hope this turns out alright. best of luck.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 1st, 2007 09:50 pm (UTC)
(Link)
http://www.cbc.ca/canada/new-brunswick/story/2007/05/01/nb-tradeswomen.html

Does this story speak of the same Nicole Vienneau?

Just googled and ran into the story. Also, if David Vienneau was your father (I'm sorry to hear of your loss if so), might he have had any journalistic connections who may be able to help your family in the search?

Just a thought.
[User Picture]
From:vienneau
Date:May 1st, 2007 10:16 pm (UTC)
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Not the same person, though it's strange that it's popped up on Google at the exact same time.

We are working the media connections angle as much as we can. Unfortunately, media companies have cut back a lot in the past decade or two so they don't have as many foreign correspondents that you can easily call because they just use AP/Reuters. Were my father still alive, he may have had some old buddies around the world to check in with, but all the ones we know of we've been checking with.
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Expand
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 1st, 2007 10:21 pm (UTC)

Good thoughts

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Matt I've sent a link to your site to all my travel buddies and anyone who I think could have some insight.. 6 degrees.
Keep us posted. Marisa
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 1st, 2007 10:49 pm (UTC)

Please provide hotel names

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Hello,

I'm the guy who mentioned the Canadian embassy a little bit earlier.

please provide me with the names of those hotels. I found a friend who knows a lot of them and is involved in tourism in the desert areas and even in Damascus. he can show the picture of your sister to the people there.

you can also keep in touch on: gkabb101@uottawa.ca

good luck :(
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 2nd, 2007 12:17 am (UTC)

I am a Syrian

(Link)
I can't really know how you feel, this must be really hard.
I can tell you one thing, she is not kidnapped or so, Syria is not that type of country. Either something is wrong with her or she is in Turkey and in trouble.
If something has happened to her in Syria then it is a rare thing and i am sorry.
btw, why don't u come down to Syria and search for urself? it would be more effective i think..
[User Picture]
From:vienneau
Date:May 2nd, 2007 12:46 am (UTC)

Re: I am a Syrian

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One of the options is for me or another member of the family to come to Syria and investigate. At this point, we're not sure how much I would be able to do that would help. I don't speak the language, so once I've exhausted my list of hotels, I'm not able to easily follow up on other avenues such as tour guides or more obscure places to stay. I can't chat with bus drivers or read newspapers - it really limits me.

We are looking at hiring a private investigator in Syria (or potentially Jordan) who speaks the language and has contacts. Hopefully that will work out.

I don't believe she's been kidnapped either. But we are having trouble figuring out what might have happened. It's entirely possible that she's in Turkey, but we can't get anyone at the border to find out for us!
I am from Damascus - (Anonymous) - Expand
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 2nd, 2007 12:18 am (UTC)
(Link)
Syria is actually a very welcoming country to foreign tourists, but if she doesn't speak Arabic, that could complicate things. Of course, accidents and freak occurrences do happen, but if it gives you hope, bear in mind that the crime rate is far lower in Syria than in many U.S. cities.

I'm sure there is a Syrian embassy in Canada since there is one in the U.S. and the two countries are not even officially speaking.
(Deleted comment)
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 2nd, 2007 05:41 pm (UTC)

Find out the IP of the email she sent

(Link)
Look at the email headers of the last email she sent. In outlook right click on the email and click email options. Look for the [Received: from ] line, that should tell you where or what computer she sent the email from. Then take that and do an IP lookup or reverse lookup. You can do that at http://dnsstuff.com. Take that information and search ARIN to find out who owns that IP.. This should give you the net provider and possibly the hotel name or cafe she sent the email from.

With those bits of information, it should atleast tell you where she was when she last emailed you and give you a 'trail' to start looking.

Let me know if you need more help, ron@rongeorge.com
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 2nd, 2007 06:32 pm (UTC)

offer to help from Hama

(Link)
Hello,

I'm a Canadian travelling in Syria at the moment. I'm currently in Hama, so I'll ask around at the budget hotels here. If there's anything I can do, please let me know!

Dallas
dallas_card@yahoo.com
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 2nd, 2007 08:49 pm (UTC)

i'm turkish

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i'm turkish and i live in US right now. if you need any numbers called within turkey, i do not mind doing that. if you ever need me, my email is: karakusk at yahoo.com and i can give you my phone number if need be.

hope she turns out fine.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 2nd, 2007 09:58 pm (UTC)

Hi

(Link)
I live in Ankara and a friend forwarded your blog to me. Have you contacted the Canadian Embassy in Turkey? I know some people there but I don't know what they can do for you.

Best

Jo

havingfuninturkey@hotmail.com
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 3rd, 2007 04:31 am (UTC)

Have you looked in Palmyra?

(Link)
Palmyra (east of Damas and Hama, between the two) is a place where all tourist goes. There is not a lots of hotels there and it's a very little town, so it would be easy to check.

I stayed at the Isthar Hotel; the staff were very friendly. They have a shop and they seems to know everybody in the place. I'm sure they would check all around if your asked them.

Here's their email adress: ishtarhotel@hotmail.com
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 3rd, 2007 04:27 am (UTC)

Hi

(Link)
That is really Strange..I'm Syrian living in Montreal. Syria in one of the safiest countries in the world. I suggest you travel to Damas to the Canadian embassy. This will make your search more advanced and quick. I'll also try to forword this story to a Syrian online media maybe they could talk about this story or even put her picture. But the best thing to do is to fly to Damas.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 3rd, 2007 05:36 am (UTC)

Nicole

(Link)
I really hope you find her. Perhaps you could post some more pictures of what she looks like so that it may be easier for someone to recognize her. Best wishes!
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