Sun, Aug 12, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Australian's trip to meet Internet love becomes nightmare

AFP , SYDNEY

A lovelorn Australian bachelor's trip to find true love in the heart of Africa via the Internet turned into a nightmare of kidnap and extortion, a media report said yesterday.

Desmond Gregor, 56, from South Australia state, traveled all the way to Mali to meet "Natacha," a young lady he had become acquainted with online and who promised him riches, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

But instead of being greeted by Natacha's relatives on arrival in the country's capital, Bamako, gangsters who had orchestrated the scheme kidnapped Gregor, stripped him naked, put a gun to his head and waved machetes in his face.

Having expected to be given US$100,000 in gold, Gregor instead found he had to scrape together US$100,000 for his kidnappers or have his arms cut off, the report said.

A series of e-mail messages to relatives implored them to send money.

But when some of Gregor's e-mails appeared to be written by someone with very poor English skills, concerned relatives back home became suspicious and contacted Australian foreign affairs officials.

"We did not know exactly where our brother was being held, how he was being treated and what would happen to him," Gregor's relatives said in a public statement.

On Thursday, after a 12-day ordeal and an international sting involving Australian and Malian police, consular officials and hostage negotiators, Gregor was rescued.

The operation involved a supposed ransom of US$30,000 at the Canadian embassy in Bamako, where Australia has no diplomatic mission.

The kidnappers fell for the trick and let Gregor enter the Canadian embassy, but they escaped capture.

"We enticed them into a deal. Their greed lured them in. It was too tempting," Tim Morris, assistant commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, was quoted as saying. "I still can't believe he survived."

West African Internet scams are well-known, often involving Nigeria.

"Natacha" turned out to be a Liberian woman in her 20s purporting to be residing in a refugee camp and offering riches of gold.

Gregor's family urged others not to repeat his mistake.

"People can get tunnel vision when it comes to matters of the heart, and scammers can be so convincing," the family said in a statement.

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