The Beginning Of My Ascendance
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(*The blog is no longer being updated regularly due to the civil war in Syria.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*)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.
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 email@example.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.
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.( Click Here For Additional/Older Details...Collapse )
Current Mood: worried
Current Music: Gerard McMann - "Cry Little Sister"
Tags: jacqueline nicole vienneau missing syria
|Date:||October 7th, 2007 06:05 pm (UTC)|| |
Scouring the jails
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,
|Date:||October 13th, 2007 11:43 pm (UTC)|| |
Re: Scouring the jails
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.
|Date:||October 9th, 2007 01:21 am (UTC)|| |
Try using police dogs
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.
|Date:||October 10th, 2007 05:01 pm (UTC)|| |
Re: Try using police dogs
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.
|Date:||October 15th, 2007 10:28 pm (UTC)|| |
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.
|Date:||October 16th, 2007 11:30 am (UTC)|| |
Re: Privacy concerns
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.
|Date:||October 17th, 2007 08:34 pm (UTC)|| |
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
|Date:||October 18th, 2007 03:54 pm (UTC)|| |
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.
|Date:||October 19th, 2007 05:53 am (UTC)|| |
You've probably already thought of this, but when I saw the same "Amine Benyahia" a few things occured to me: that it might be Amina (a common Arab female name) and the last name might be any variation of ben/bin yahia/yahya or possibly other spellings. Quick google searches on those names didn't yield anything.
|Date:||October 22nd, 2007 05:51 am (UTC)|| |
Re: Amine Benyahia
I was JUST coming to post the same thing!
Male: Amin, Ameen, Ayman, or even Amir,
Female: Amina, Aminah, Ameena, Ameenah, Amira, Amirah
Bin: Bin, Ben, Ibn (not a typo)
Yahia: Sounds more to me like Yahya. Other - Yahiya, Yahiyah, Yaheeya, Yaheeyah.
Note - between the Bin and the Yahia could be a dash or a space
Bin-Yahia, Bin Yahia,
|Date:||October 24th, 2007 02:59 am (UTC)|| |
Another school of thought...
If she hitch hiked, she would have put herself in the way of danger...Unfortunately (and I really mean "unfortunately" because I am a single woman who likes to travel) this would be the case anywhere in the world...When I am in a foreign country, I never even take a cab alone..
I think it is a long shot that the Syrian government would take revenge on your sister.
I wish you success..
|Date:||October 27th, 2007 07:39 pm (UTC)|| |
I was just wondering how you know that the Amine Benyahia you are looking for, is the same who was on that website? That person was in Switzerland, but maybe the person you are looking for either is that person but lives in Algeria (or somewhere else)now, or he is someone totally different who has nothing to do with Switzerland?
|Date:||November 8th, 2007 11:27 am (UTC)|| |
re 6th nov entry regarding Hama
have sent email for your viewing
from Brit living in Syria
|Date:||November 8th, 2007 07:05 pm (UTC)|| |
Be careful when pursuing the Muslim Brotherhood links. This could get you banned from coming to Syria and it could cause a big problem for anyone who contacts you. I would not pursue this publically through your message board. You know about the incident that happened in Hama back in the 80's when the MB apparantly tried to do an assasination on Hafiz Al Assad and the town was surrounded and about 26,000 people killed right?
I am surprised you haven't somehow contacted the Iraqi refugee camps (be VERY careful). There are camps that are teeming (see Dennis Kuchinach (spelling?) video on his trip.)
Also, I really, really think you need to focus on pursuing what was mentioned before about sex slaves. FIND A WAY TO CONTACT ORGs. THAT DEAL WITH ESCAPED SEX SLAVES. TRY TO CONTACT BROTHELS AND THE LIKE TOO.
This is where you should be focused. It is unlikely that the Muslim Brotherhood kidnapped Nicole IMO. More likely it would be a group of sex slavers or Iraqi refugees.
I still feel that since NO ONE saw her outside of the hotel, you need to get forensics (somehow) to check out her room.
God willing she will come home alive.
|Date:||November 9th, 2007 12:01 am (UTC)|| |
The Muslim Brotherhood is an extremist group that has done a lot of terrorist operations in Syria in the 80s and are hence outlawed and pursued and prosecuted wherever they are found. Trying to do business with them is a bad bad idea. Not only is this dangerous, but it will make the goverment very suspicious of you. They may even think your whole ordeal is a plot to get into Syria and cause them problems.
|Date:||November 10th, 2007 03:37 am (UTC)|| |
Re: Muslim Brotherhood
Absolutely agree. I wrote the post above called 'be careful'.
Matt, I think it is VERY unlikely that the MB took her. They are not into that kind of thing in Syria and trying to contact them is asking for problems with the Syrian govt. whom you want to keep on the good side of. The MB in Syria is a different situation than say the MB in Egypt which, although outlawed, is somewhat tolerated. Understand that the MB is persona non grata by the Syrian govt. and will indeed make them suspicious of you. Not to mention, because you are ..shall we say a novice in this area, you are likely to get ordinary Syrian people who have or want to help you in big trouble or more scared to help you. Please take this off your blog.
As I said, anyway, I don't think the MB would be involved - it is not their type of thing in Syria. As far as I know, they have not been known to do this at all.
IMO, as mentioned, your best bet by far is to pursue the sex slaver angle.
Do NOT pursue the MB angle - it will get you nowhere most likely except a big problem with the Syrian govt.
Take it off your blog and if there is more information later then you can think about pursuing that angle but right now, just throwing it up there like that is likely to cause you more problems. JEEZ!
|Date:||November 10th, 2007 03:45 am (UTC)|| |
Ok I just had to write again even though I just posted. You have no idea what you are doing in this area Matt. Geez!!!! This is insane. Take it off now.
Also the Egyptian MB and the Syrian are not really the same org. They just use the same names. If you don't even know this (and it is ok because why would you) then you are definitely NOT capable of pursuing this angle. Drop it. Also take off the thing about Hama because the SG doesn't like this to be mentioned. Good lord, I don't know who the heck is advising you but you need to contact some specialists in the Middle East which I assume you have but geez. If not, contact a local canadian university professor or something.
Drop it and then delete comments relating to it.
|Date:||November 10th, 2007 05:13 am (UTC)|| |
Possible contact for sex trafficking
I am sorry if I seemed harsh in my last posts. It's just I don't want you to make a misstep and panicked a little. I am sure you have thought of all this though. I think we on the blog should start concentrating on the sex traffic angle and start locating sources. Nicole is a smart, sharp girl from hearing about her amazing life and travels. If she has been kidnapped for this then she will survive and do what she has to do to do so. Do not write her off for dead yet ok? Your posts have seemed to be reconciling yourself to this idea even though I know you always have hope and that is why you keep searching. I am proud of you. So proud. Don't give up.
Everyone, let us start working on this angle please (if Matt says ok).
Trafficked to Syria
The UAE is not the only destination for trafficked Iraqi women. Syria is increasingly becoming a popular destination for traffickers, according to humanitarian agencies.
A report released in May by the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), the UN’s Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) spoke of “organised networks dealing with the sex trade” in Syria. It made a correlation between the deteriorating conditions of Iraqi citizens and an increase in prostitution and trafficking of Iraqi sex workers.
"It is not possible to say how big the trafficking problem from Iraq to Syria is but we know it does exist," said Ann Maymann, a protection officer with UNHCR in Damascus. "It is something that has been kept quiet because people are afraid to talk about it."
Local activists in Syria say much more needs to be done to protect this vulnerable and increasingly exploited community.
Last September, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) co-hosted a workshop with the Ministry of Interior to raise awareness on counter-trafficking.
Maria Rumman, IOM chief of mission in Damascus, said the organisation was assisting a Syrian government committee established to draft a counter-trafficking law, and was waiting for international donor funds for a proposed shelter to assist victims of trafficking. Without such a facility, she said, surveying the number of people trafficked into Syria was impossible.
"The government agrees there is a need for new legislation and for a shelter," said Rumman. "But we have not received any reply from donors, including the US, for a year. The minute we have any donor commitment we will begin."
|Date:||November 13th, 2007 01:30 am (UTC)|| |
pursuing the internet cafe
I really think this is something you should investigate, it's too coincidental considering none of the other leads are turning up useful.
Best wishes, I keep Nicole in my thoughts.
|Date:||November 14th, 2007 07:49 am (UTC)|| |
Have someone translate this - Urgent
ألقت شرطة محافظة حماة على رجل ارتكب 30 جريمة ومحكوم بالسجن لمدة 25 عاما, بعد سنوات طويلة من الفرار.
وقالت صحيفة "الوطن" السورية إن الشرطة تمكنت من إلقاء القبض في إحدى قرى المحافظة على (م.سرحان.ف) المتهم بارتكاب 30 جريمة منها السلب والقتل وتجارة المخدرات والليرات الذهبية المزيفة، والآثار في ستة محافظات.
وأضافت الصحيفة أن الشرطة ضبطت مع المتهم الفار بندقية حربية كلاشنكوف عيار 7.62 ملم مع ثماني مذخرات و250 طلقة حية, ومسدس حربي نوع كولد أمريكي و42 طلقة حية, إضافة إلى قنبلة دفاعية.
Dear Matt, I dont wanna sound creepy, but I have read the above in a syrian journal today 14-11-07 Here's the link http://www.syria-news.com/index.php
It says that the syrian police, hama district, arrested a serial killer that has committed 30 crimes (killing, robbery, hold up , etc) so far.....
Better you call your contacts in Syria and check with the canadian embassy as well as any Syrian officials
|Date:||November 15th, 2007 06:18 am (UTC)|| |
Re: Have someone translate this - Urgent
Find the full link regarding M.Serhanh F
|Date:||November 15th, 2007 01:27 am (UTC)|| |
info on M.serhan F
sent email... hope of some use. MW