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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(*The blog is no longer being updated regularly due to the civil war in Syria.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*)



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.


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).


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.  UPDATE:  On January 19th, 2019, Amine contacted me.  He does not remember anything unusual.

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.


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.


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:

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

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.


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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Tags: jacqueline nicole vienneau missing syria

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May 4 2007, 18:17:41 UTC 14 years ago

Hi Matthew, I heard you on CBC radio this morning and and I did make a posting on the TT - I'm Deedee.

My husband and I were in Hama 2 years ago and stayed at the Cairo Hotel. I am a little confused about where Nicole went on the day she disappeared. You mentioned the Beehives on the radio. We never went there but did pass them on our way to Hama. Not far from the city and I would imagine they could be easily reached by bus, taxi etc. We were never there so cannot comment except to say that they are in a well populated area and relatively close to Hama.

The Dead Cities you mentioned are a different matter altogether. They are quite far from Hama and in a remote area. Most travellers go on a tour to visit them. It would be quite difficult if not impossible to go by bus. The tours are inexpensive and generally arranged by hotels - the Cairo and another one on the same block that is mentioned in the Lonely Planet (sorry, don't have the book with me so I can't give the name). Most travellers go out to the Dead Ciities on tours with one or other of these hotels and if that is where your sister went it is what she probably would have done. But, sometimes you have to wait a few days for a tour. Was she in a rush? If so it is possible she could have arrange something privately. You probably have a good idea what she would do.

The Cairo Hotel is a very friendly place. I'm sure she would have talked both with other travelers and the staff working there. I would really push this and try to find people who met with her these. Try different branches on the TT like central Asia, Indian subcontinent etc. I would keep that current. I know when I am away I usually get to a computer once a week and read just the current postings.

Have the staff at the Cairo been forthcoming with information? When I was there (of course, this was a few years back) they were really chatty and helpful in arranging tours etc. You could check the other hotel down the street to see if by chance she went out with them. If you can't find the name let me know and I will look it up.

A cautionary point - people in Syria are nervous of the police. I should mention that we just loved the country and the people despite the rather ruthless government.

If there is anything more I can do feel free to contact me

Good luck Matthew. Dianne
Hi Matt, it's me Lisa... I have sent a contact your way his name is Kohir. He has access to the Syrian newspapers and will put your sister's info out on your behalf. Please answer Kohir if he contacts you. He is motivated by a really good heart.

You may want to get in touch with Locators Online. I learned of these folks during the tsunami disaster. Exchanged a couple emails with David and they seem like good people. I think their work is mainly helping connect people after disasters, but they may be able to help with one-off connections too.

They are also well located, as they are based in Cyprus, so have lots of contacts in the middle east.
David T. Thomas, Executive Director + 90 533 863 7922
David!!! You are absolutely brilliant!

Hey Matt,

Are you able to post a link to the PDF poster of your sister?

That might make it easy for people to link to and email to others.

If you're not sure how to do that, just get someone you know who has a website to host it for you, and give you a link.

Good luck

Done - a friend of ours has offered to put the two PDFs on her website, so we've done that and it's been mentioned in the main blog.

Thank you for the suggestion,


Best wishes


May 5 2007, 08:42:16 UTC 14 years ago

One of my best friends went missing last year in Bolivia, same circumstances. It was 34 days before I found her having gone to Bolivia myself to find her. Chin up, hope for the best. My friend ran out of money in the middle of nowhere and thus "got stuck". Had to make jewelry to sell on the street to make bus fare back to "civilization". Good crowd on LP Missing Traveller's forum. They can help.

You are doing the right thing. Get the media involved, but give them facts and hopefully they don't screw it up too much. They can hinder your search I found out the hard way. If you know any politicians, that gives some help when you need an extra nudge in the Foreign Affairs department. Track IP addresses, get access to her email, send emails to those she had contact with...but in the end, I'd jump on a plane myself and start looking on the ground for her.

Start at the last known place and work in multiple directions if you have to. The cops in Canada can't do too much and unless you have the constant ear of Foreign Affairs a missing traveller isn't too high on their list of things to do. Put someone else in charge back home and get on the ground in Syria with your latest intel and just go like a madman. Most people in Syria are illiterate so posting notices in Arabic obviouisly helps but you need pix as well. Contact local area media "Al Jeezera (sp)".

Send missing notices to every single backpackers in Syria, Jordan, Israel, Egypt and Turkey. Get a Lonely Planet and most places list emails and/ or fax numbers. I'm in Egypt now and will print this off and post in some of the hostels here in Egypt on the off chance she has made it this way or someone has bumped into her along the way.

Good luck mate. Hope this works out OK.

shankland_the_dog -at-
It is not the same in syria..
if you are lost there and need money.. trust me.. all ppl will help you and give you money or ride..
I am in Amman at the moment, but heading to Damascus tomorrow. I will be staying with friends, who are local Syrians, and will certainly see what information I can find out and get back to you. I will see if they have heard anything and see if there is someway they can help. My thoughts are with you and I hope I will be able to help in some way.


May 5 2007, 15:07:57 UTC 14 years ago

The people at The Cairo Hotel speak excellent English and are really genuinely friendly. I think you should call them or set up email contact directly with them.

I was in this area in mid-March and stayed at the Cairo Hotel. I used their private taxi service, not public transport, to visit the places you are writing about.

Sorry I can't find their card - but check online - or ask the Embassy to put you in contact
I'm sure it's important to have a human do the critical translations, but I found this English-to-Arabic and Arabic-to-English translation tool. I don't read a spot of Arabic, but it seems like it works pretty good.

Might be something you can use if you are trying to search sites in Arabic, if you get any communications in Arabic you can't read, or if you need to fire off a quick email to someone.

Continued wishes of good luck
I saw your quotes in the Globe today and wondered if you were one and the same (we're on ed_rex's friends' list). I don't have anything to offer other than my hope that she is returned safety, and that if you need the help of fellow citizens to pressure our government to step up their involvement, count me in.
I have posted the CBC story about your sister at both my blogs. I wanted to let you know this information. Holly's Fight for Justice, Holly's Fight to Stop Violence
I wish you find her soon.
God Bless Holly Desimone

Map of Syria


May 5 2007, 20:28:10 UTC 14 years ago

Hi Matt,

In case it is useful, here is an excellent map of the area.

I just caught the story on cbc newsworld and couldn't believe my eyes when I saw her picture. I was a friend of Nicole's at North Toronto C.I. when we went there together, she was in the year behind me but we had many mutual friends over a few class years. I wish I had some help to offer other than my hopes she is found alive and well. We all know that putting yourself out there in the world can be a bit risky, (I got taken for $1500 in an elaborate scam in Thailand and I thought I was savvy), but it was no surprise to hear that she became a brave world traveller. She always carried herself with self reliance back then, if she's anything as tough now she has some good odds in her favour.
I hope i can help you ... i am canadian syrian, i still have family and friends there and i speak arabic beside that i know a lot about the country .. please let me know

You can absolutely help - please contact any of your friends or family who might have friends or relatives or co-workers from the Hama area, and particularly the villages around Qasr Ibn Wardan. Anyone who can help us find someone who might have seen Nicole on March 31st or even someone who can report on whether the people in the area are aware that we're searching right now. If your family and friends have any contacts in the government, that would be of great benefit as well.


Re: Don't worry ...


14 years ago

Re: Don't worry ...


14 years ago

Hi Matt..

I have Emailed Syria-news with the story and a link to this website for the second time. but it seems they need some time for their own investigation. I'm trying also to see if other Arabic newspapers might publish the Story. I'll also email some of the posters to some friends living in the Hama region and to some university students in the Area.
Good Luck
Perhaps she got lost on her way to her destination. Transportation and communications in Syria are very difficult in remote areas. I am originally Syrian and was there about 5 years ago. I found the people extremely kind and generous over there even to foreigners(especially when I told them I am from Canada). They do not have search and rescue teams as we have here though. I strongly suggest you go there, rent a car and try to find her.

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