My Sister, Nicole Vienneau, Has Gone Missing in Syria - Updates from August 5th to 26th

August 26th (Evening):

We've had another extortion attempt.

This time, it's likely an American, and he (I can only assume it's a he) has made a habit of trying to extort money from families of missing people. Over the past six weeks or so I've been in email conversation with the person, and they've finally stopped responding two weeks ago. I suspect it had to do with my asking them how they'd like to be paid given they're supposed to be in Syria and Syria doesn't have international banking and isn't accessible via American websites such as Paypal. Not something your average extortionist has likely dealt with before.

The person used an "anonymizer" to disguise their email address, but it seems to re-use the same fake address so it was easy to find them online via Google. Each of these sites references a family that this person has attempted to scam (I've shown the email address too in case others search for them):

As lutrija98@gmail.com and us.visa23@gmail.com:

http://www.reintjes.us/blackmail.htm http://justiceinmiami.blogspot.com/2008/08/warning-extortionist-targeting-families.html

As john.doe2551@gmail.com

http://www.missourimissing.org/mmpublicwarning.html http://www.lilaclane.com/missing-children/left-behind/ (at the very bottom)

A general article on the subject from a few weeks ago:

http://www.komu.com/satellite/SatelliteRender/KOMU.com/ba8a4513-c0a8-2f11-0063-9bd94c70b769/8fdc3987-80ce-0971-01c8-2fa8b530d305

The "Reply-To" email is always johndoe19@ymail.com

Because of the anonymizer, it's impossible to tell where they're sending it from, otherwise we'd catch them like we caught the guys in Spain. This person is a very disgusting waste of space, so nothing would make me happier than to put him behind bars. If anyone out happens to have a method of breaking an anonymizer, contact me and I'll be happy to provide the full email headers and IP addresses.

If you read through the websites I've listed, you can see a rough idea of what his emails were like. It starts with a random "I have information" email that goes directly to junk mail, and when you respond, he customizes the story based on what he can find with a quick web search. In this case, there were a number of red flags that he was fake, beginning with his excellent English, which didn't quite match his story of being a Syrian handyman who claimed to have seen Nicole while working in a building near where she disappeared. There is also the issue of our willingness to give a $20,000 reward openly, so why bother keeping your identity secret? A very stupid and lazy person.

Of course, he insists that I do not contact the police. Allow me to assure anyone thinking of trying to extort money from us - I will always contact the police. It takes just a few seconds to email them, and it's easy to tell a scam from an actual kidnapper. If you're a kidnapper, send me a recent photo of Nicole and you'll have my full attention and cooperation.

That being said, if you have a legitimate tip, and wish to remain anonymous, just let me know and no one will find out, including the Canadian police, the Syrian police, and even my own family. There's no need to demand money if you have a legitimate tip - we will happily give you money for real information, and we'll make sure it gets to you, even if you're in Syria.

I mentioned two developments last week, but I'll leave the other one for next week as I want to see if more information comes out of it first.

A couple of people mentioned that they would have listened to last week's radio interview if I had given more warning. This is an excellent point and I always give as much warning as I can for any media events. In this particular case, it's a new show that still seems a bit rough on the execution so the interview wasn't confirmed until the night before. It's odd to realize that I've done enough interviews now that I notice the difference.

Some other people were concerned regarding my mood, as I ended off last week on a bit of sombre tone. I want to reassure people that in my day-to-day life, I am able to mostly put this situation out of my mind, though it does come up once in a while. But on Tuesdays, when I do the blog, that's when the enormity of the task facing us continues to hit me and I let it out a bit here. In essence, the blog sees me at my worst.

I noticed in the media that a Canadian female journalist in Somalia has been kidnapped while travelling with an Australian and two Somalis. Early on people often commented that Nicole was very foolish to be travelling in Syria because of the perceived danger, despite Syria just not being that dangerous (as Nicole knew, because she always did very thorough research before selecting where to travel). Somalia, on the other hand, is one of the most dangerous countries in the world and everyone knows it, but this woman was there for work not leisure. The reason I bring this up is the different responses from the Canadian and Australian governments. According to news I was reading earlier this week from www.canada.com, the Australians are sending additional police and diplomatic personnel to their mission in neighbouring Kenya and have been in contact with Somali authorities (such as they are). Meanwhile the Canadians report that they are aware of news reports indicating a person is missing and are attempting to confirm the reports with local authorities. The Australians already have people on a plane to help search, the Canadians aren't convinced someone is missing - I wonder if it's too late to get Nicole an Australian passport?

Since those early reports, the local MP has commented on the situation and has apparently offered his home and cell number to the family. Needless to say, all we've received from local MPs has been short letters, which is particularly ironic since the newest Foreign Affairs Minister, David Emerson, is Nicole's local MP!

August 19th (Evening):

As announced last week, I was on the radio last Thursday. The interview was quite long, and it wasn't until right before things started that I realized it was a call-in show! It doesn't seem like too many people were listening though, as we received no calls and no one has commented or written to me about it. I think I prefer radio as not only do I not have to travel to a studio anywhere, I have a lot of difficulty watching myself on TV without cringing. One day maybe I'll learn to move my mouth when I talk, and look expressive!

We've had two recent developments that I think will make for interesting stories, but I can't quite share them just yet. Neither has led to Nicole, but once again, it's better that things are happening than having no leads or ideas at all. I say this not so much as a teaser, "stay tuned for next week when..." but mostly because there is little else to report.

It's often tough to generate the energy to do what you know/feel needs to be done. The futility of so much that has been done can weigh heavily, and is only made worse by the guilt when you know you should respond to things quickly and follow up on every possibility. I can't speak for the others like my mom and Gary, but for me, this search has become a horrible no-win situation whenever I think about it. Do I do more searching and continue to be disappointed, or do I let something slide and feel horribly guilty?

August 12th (Evening):

I have returned from my vacation, very wet but satisfied that I was able to get away and, unlike last year, be distracted entirely by my surroundings and the people I was with (and the endless rain).

Tomorrow morning I'll be on the radio - the first time in many months. At 10:20 a.m. on AM 740 I'll be interviewed live on "Dale Goldhawk Fights Back". It's been so long since I've done an interview I'll likely be a bit rusty. But it's a good opportunity to reach new people as I believe the station has quite a wide range.

In surprising news, we found another hotel guest! A very enterprising reader in Prague found Tomas Soucek, a Czech national who had been listed as Thomas Sojik staying at the Riad Hotel next to the Cairo where Nicole was staying. I'm not exactly sure how Mr. Soucek was found, but our volunteer chatted with him and passed along his story. As expected, he noticed nothing unusual and found the staff and Syrians to be very friendly. Tomas feels that the locals would have noticed Nicole had she left the hotel.

Given that we've only found one or two guests this entire year, I was thinking the last remaining ones would never be discovered. I am very impressed by the dedication of our friend in Prague.

August 5th (Evening):

As you may have noticed, I have switched to Tuesday for my weekly updates. It's often difficult to update on the weekend over the summer, and often I have dinner with my mom Sunday night so we discuss the latest happenings then.

This week I actually do have a request for everyone. We are dealing with some legal issues/situations in Syria right now, and we have legal representation there, but we may need an expert in Syrian law here in Canada. This would be someone who speaks fluent English and Arabic, and preferrably has worked as a lawyer in Syria (because Syrian law isn't like law in other countries that I'm familiar with). We want to be sure of all our options, and be able to transmit/negotiate our needs effectively.

I noticed a few weeks ago that the Portugese police have closed the file on the search for Madeleine McCann. I am somewhat heartened Nicole has been missing for a few months more than Madeleine, yet the Syrian police continue to work on finding Nicole and/or the people that caused her to disappear. From reading a few pages on the Madeleine website, I can see that the family shares similar concerns as we do regarding whether enough has been done. I can also see some things that maybe we should have done on our website. At this point, I suspect I could write a "Dummies Guide to Finding Family Members". The FBI has essentially that kind of document available for families, but it doesn't cover the newer technologies and possibilities.

Mom met with the Trust this past week and received copies of the donations that were sent by mail. We received an anonymous donation for $1,000 and since we can't thank that person (or persons) in private, I would like to do so publicly. It is much appreciated, as are all the donations that have been made. My mother responds individually to every donation (though it can take a while), so please let me know if you donated and don't hear from her by the end of August.

I will be away this coming weekend, escaping the City for my first vacation since I started the new job. It will be impossible to reach me after Wednesday, but I will check everything as soon as I return.

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