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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(*The blog is no longer being updated regularly due to the civil war in Syria.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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[User Picture]
From:westbeilschmidt
Date:May 19th, 2007 04:27 pm (UTC)
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I'm sorry to learn about your sister's diappearance. Have you had any luck since your last post?

You'll be in my thoughts and prayers.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 19th, 2007 06:44 pm (UTC)

If she hitchhiked...

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If she hitch hiked with someone, they might have driven her off to another location...Perhaps you need to check where the road goes after the archaelogical sites in Hama..you should go farther and check the next locations. Also, you should expand the search to all of Syria. You need to work on flooding the Syrian media (TV, radio newspaper). Vast majority of Syrians do not have access to cable and internet. Most Syrians cannot and do no get Aljazeera (this is pay TV).

Your sister is in my prayers. Good luck.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 19th, 2007 07:30 pm (UTC)

Re: If she hitchhiked...

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most, if not ALL Syrians get Al-Jazeera and it is one of the most watched tv stations... in there, it's not paid TV, it's satellite.. and unless you live in a tent in Syria.. then you do have a satellite.

and although the internet is not widely spread.. a very large percentage of the youngster population has access, and are very aware of the events and rss feeds on the internet.. and believe me.. word of mouth is much more effective in there cos Syrian TV is the least watched TV channel since it's government-controlled... thus the integrity of whatever's on it is not that reliable.

just keep in mind that this is a very eventful time in the syrian media.. the international court for Al Hariri, the presidential elections, the parliment elections, the issue with the imprisonment of the democratic activists..
I am sorry to say this... but they are doing the best they could to maintain their interest in this issue cos they have far more important things to worry about now..

keep in mind.. this is not Canada.. when they have problems in there, their problems is SERIOUS.... a life and death kind of problems.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 19th, 2007 09:36 pm (UTC)

arabic website

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Dear Matt, salut tout va bien ? j'espère... I'm Thair HASSAN from Syria Damascus. email: thassan1977@gmail.com I'm trying to contact you for a week now... I want to help in building the arabic website... I have emailed you more than once but no answer... Please check your email... I'll do it for free <
[Error: Irreparable invalid markup ('<i [...] man!>') in entry. Owner must fix manually. Raw contents below.]

Dear Matt, salut tout va bien ? j'espère... I'm Thair HASSAN from Syria Damascus. email: thassan1977@gmail.com I'm trying to contact you for a week now... I want to help in building the arabic website... I have emailed you more than once but no answer... Please check your email... I'll do it for free <<I JUST WANT TO HELP MAN!>>
From:thassan
Date:May 19th, 2007 10:17 pm (UTC)

Arabic website

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Dear Matt, salut tout va bien ? j'espère...
I'm Thair HASSAN from Syria Damascus.
email: thassan1977@gmail.com

I'm trying to contact you for a week now...
I want to help in building the arabic website...
I have emailed you more than once but no answer...
Please check your email...
I'll do it for free "I JUST WANT TO HELP MAN!"
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 25th, 2007 02:16 am (UTC)

Re: Arabic website

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Matt's getting a ridiculous amount of email I am sure. Fret not, he will respond :)
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 20th, 2007 02:15 am (UTC)
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Hello Matt, Nicole used to live in my building for 5 years before this trip and I can tell you we are following your search for her with the greatest of concern. People in the building are praying daily for her safe return. Would it be possible to "crack" her e-mail account to see if there is any information regarding a side trip or ? bradhill_2000@yahoo.com
[User Picture]
From:vienneau
Date:May 20th, 2007 07:08 am (UTC)
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We're working on getting access to her email. Due to privacy concerns, it requires a formal police request from Canadian authorities that was delayed by some bureaucratic confusion.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 20th, 2007 06:47 pm (UTC)

Dogs?

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Your sister sounds like an adventurer (eg. drawing maps etc) she could have wandered somewhere.. Do the police in syria have trained sniffer dogs? Start with the hotel.
From:hsoudan
Date:May 20th, 2007 08:08 pm (UTC)

have you tried dogs?

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Your sister sounds like an adventurer (eg. drawing maps of unusual places, etc)she could have wandered somewhere on her own. Have you tried asking the police if they have trained sniffer dogs. Start with the hotel thoroughly -you never know she could still be there!.
Enquire also with the right people about underground brothels. There have been rare but confirmed cases of girls being kidnapped and forced into prostitution.
From:carrie2004
Date:May 20th, 2007 10:53 pm (UTC)
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Hope you find her soon.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 20th, 2007 11:25 pm (UTC)

One Possibility

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This is just a thought but do you know if the authorities have checked out the northeastern part of Syria near the Euphrates River? From what I understand, it's like a big refugee camp with people from all around the area. Because it's very remote and impoverished, also surrounded by desert, if she were taken there I imagine it would be very difficult for her to communicate with anyone.
I wish you the best.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 23rd, 2007 09:35 am (UTC)

Re: One Possibility

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Where'd you get that idea?

First of all, the northeastern part of Syria, al-Hassakeh and Qamishli, are not particularly close to the Euphrates River. Nor are they anything like refugee camps; the people in and around Qamishli are predominantly Kurdish, and Assyrian and Armenian Christians, with more Arabs around al-Hassakeh and further south. They're not refugees. It's not desert, either, but plains with a heavy amount of agriculture. It might be an infrequently visited corner of the country, but it isn't exactly "remote". Also, there is little reason she'd end up in a predominantly Kurdish and Christian region if she went missing in Hama (a predominantly conservative Sunni Arab region).
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 21st, 2007 02:35 am (UTC)

It is only an idea...

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I read about your story in The Toronto Star last week and hence discovered your blog. Thank you for the updates, they are very informative. An idea that comes to mind, if possible, is to offer a reward on the posters. I was thinking this approach may be an incentive which may attract more interest to the locals and tourists. Perhaps to "jog" their memories or take an extra look at her photo which might come to some future lead. I pray for your sister's prompt safe return home. Take care.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 21st, 2007 02:36 am (UTC)

An idea comes to mind...

(Link)
I read about your story in The Toronto Star last week and hence discovered your blog. Thank you for the updates, they are very informative. An idea that comes to mind, if possible, is to offer a reward on the posters. I was thinking this approach may be an incentive which may attract more interest to the locals and tourists. Perhaps to "jog" their memories or take an extra look at her photo which might come to some future lead. I pray for your sister's prompt safe return home. Take care.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 21st, 2007 05:57 am (UTC)

Syrian TV

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Hello, you can reach out to the Syrian population through Syrian television stations. It's an effective tool to reach out to people who don't read English and or have no access to internet or satellite television. I recommend preparing an interview (a story) to be aired ASAP both on the satellite and the local channel, in case there is more than one. I believe that the Canadian embassy can contact the Syrian television with this regards. Otherwise here is a list of contacts : http://www.rtv.gov.sy/index.php?m=7
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 21st, 2007 07:44 pm (UTC)

sending you energy

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My heart goes out to you Matt. I was worried when I didn't see an update for 2 days, now I understand. One thing you may want to do when drafting an update is to email it to yourself as you are working on it, as a back up. Mostly I was touched by how that one thing upset you so much, as it really is a sign of how much stress you are under.

I agree with you being able to do your best work at home with a reliable internet connection. Though I am glad you went for all the reasons you stated.

I don't have new suggestions, just want you to know how many people are following your blog and story and are hoping beyond hope for good news on Nicole. Peace and travel safe.

Roberta
From:thassan
Date:May 22nd, 2007 12:38 am (UTC)
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Hello Matt,

I was worried not to read the update of 20th may,
I thought since it's sunday you took a break, but it's ok now.

well, for the dogs they're rarely used by the syrian police
but you can give it a shot.!

do you thing that you might have sometime to see me in
Damascus tomorrow 22th may...and have a little chat about the
Arabic website?

If you do, I'm available from 9am till 2pm tomorrow 22th may
you can call me or send a SMS to this number

0933 599 475

it's a local number not a long-distance one so don't hesitate...

take care.
Thair.HASSAN

From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 22nd, 2007 02:01 am (UTC)

Tone seems giving up

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Matt,

I am a little concerned that the tone of you blog this last couple days seems to be that when you go back to Canada, you guys will just kind of give up or something. The Syrians are very helpful but I think once you leave, it will be put on the back burner. It kind of seems odd that you would be there for only a week when she is missing you know? It will seem odd to the Syrians too. I think now might be the time to start loudly pronouncing a reward. Syria runs on baksheesh(tips..er..bribes). This could bring in a whole host of other issues of course, but I think there is not much choice left. It might help.

From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 22nd, 2007 06:25 pm (UTC)

an idea

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hi , i'm from syria - hims city to be accurate , i just red about your sister's missing and i'm real sorry for that , i thought it would be helpful to tell you that it could be more effective regarding the search if you try to manage a tv interview at 1'st syrian local channel about your case cause most people here watch tv ...
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 22nd, 2007 06:27 pm (UTC)

an idea

(Link)
Hi , i'm from Syria - Hims city to be accurate , i just red about your sister's missing and i'm real sorry for that , i thought it would be helpful to tell you that it could be more effective regarding the search if you try to manage a tv interview at 1'st syrian local channel about your case cause most people here watch it ...
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 23rd, 2007 12:45 am (UTC)

you did your best....

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Dear Matt, I think you did your best at this time. The offered reward is the best option at this time. Lets think about it; the possibilities is one of three: The best possibility is that she decided to hide, by herself or with someone else, just to find her self in life away from everybody and in this case if someone saw her and knew about the reward he will inform the authorities. The second option, which is less likely, is that she was kidnapped, but in such cases the kidnappers should have asked for something by now…!!! The third possibility, which we don’t like, is that she was murdered for whatever reason and in this case whoever did it , will hide the body very well since he know that it is very serious to attack any tourists in Syria . unfortunately, even with the award, that person who knows something, he might be hesitant to talk, since he know that he might ended up with serious investigations from the authorities….!!!! Any Matt, I hope for the first possibility. Last thing, did the authorities verify the identity of that body that was found near Homs….!!
[User Picture]
From:vienneau
Date:May 26th, 2007 07:18 pm (UTC)

Re: you did your best....

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The two bodies that have been found are not Nicole. This was verified by several people in Hama who are familiar with the situation (as in, they went and looked at the body to make sure)
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 23rd, 2007 01:57 am (UTC)

REGARDING POLICE DOGS! Important

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Hello Vienneau

I have living this story with you since the few first posts. I wish I was in Syria to help more. Regarding Police dogs, though, I want to tell you that there seems to be a professional guy who handles such rare thing like this in Syria.
I found his site after long search; actually www.Syria-news.com ran an article about Private security firms and they mentioned his name:
This is his site; I'm sure he can give good advice on this or maybe provide you with a dog.
http://www.dogtraining-sy.com/
Name of the trainer is Samer Hamzawi
His mobile number
00(963)94282879
His landline
00(963)(11) 6801780
The e-mails are here at the end of this link
http://www.dogtraining-sy.com/lmah/atsl.htm
Actually, I have been wondering why no one has mentioned search dogs; I was going to write you myself this idea since I was reading a bit about it on:
http://www.sarbc.org/waverly.html
Here is an association for search dogs in Canada:
http://www.canadiansearchdogs.com/index.htm
Maybe they can give advice on this as well

I really hope this was helpful and I encourage you to try this idea.
Praying for her safe return.
God bless Nicole!

Mazen


From:hsoudan
Date:May 23rd, 2007 06:48 am (UTC)

Re: REGARDING POLICE DOGS! Important

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With reference to Mazen's post, the mobile number of the dog trainer should be 00(963)94 4 282879
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 23rd, 2007 02:43 am (UTC)

The Syria news article

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The article in Syria News is great. It really personalized your story. The comments are very supportive and most people were asking for the media to do more to spread the story.
Someone commented that offering a prize would encourage tourist abductions in Syria...he might be right.
Good luck and best wishes..
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 23rd, 2007 03:57 am (UTC)

you can translate arabic to english with google

(Link)
http://translate.google.com/translate_t
You should be able to get the gist of anything you need to read by copy and pasting any text into the BETA translator.
This is assuming you have time to spare. I wish your family all the best, I am thinking of you all.
[User Picture]
From:vienneau
Date:May 26th, 2007 07:03 pm (UTC)

Re: you can translate arabic to english with google

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We've been using the Google translator to get the gist of various articles and comments, but it's tricky to get a 100% accurate translation, especially when people use slang or mis-spell a word. It makes for some amusing translations at times, but we generally can figure out what's being said.
[User Picture]
From:k5memo
Date:May 23rd, 2007 04:32 am (UTC)
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Regardless of the difference in the media coverage and attention that both cases got. I think at the end of the day,, all we all want is for both Maddy and your sister to be safe.

Take care Matt.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 23rd, 2007 08:16 am (UTC)
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I heard your letter on the syrian tv and saw the photo . thats sounds good because this program is wide spread

good luke
[User Picture]
From:vienneau
Date:May 23rd, 2007 07:45 pm (UTC)
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Which show did you see it on?
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 24th, 2007 12:25 am (UTC)

for the reward

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Hi Matt...I agree with you about the problem of handeling the calls for the reward. I'm syrian and I'm just thinking if I have an information and need to call,what would be more confortable for me. I think your Embassy needs to be involve, and acually I think the add should be under the embassy name; like the canadian embaasy is offering an award....ect. then the embassy needs to find a local personal to receive the calls and they need to help him with the recording...I don't know who will finance all that...but I think that is the more logical way...The Embassy name is the only reliable name that anyone will trust to call in any valiable info. good luck. Firas.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 24th, 2007 02:14 am (UTC)

CBC interview

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Matt,

What do you hope to gain from your CBC interview and air time? The Canadian media is reporting it as a story about you and not your sister. More women go missing in Canada than in Syria and they never get all that air time. I can understand spreading the news in Syria (in case someone saw her) but I doubt that CBC viewers can help this way.
Anyway good luck. Your sister is in my prayer and I hope they will find her safe soon.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 24th, 2007 04:25 am (UTC)

Re: CBC interview

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EVERY bit helps. You never know where a lead will come from.

And if the next step is to pull together a reward, the additional exposure may help there.

But most importantly, Canadians are caring people, and we care about a story like this. I'd be more upset if the CBC didn't do a piece.
Re: CBC interview - (Anonymous) - Expand
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