Search Deepens for Missing American Couple in Peru

An American couple who went cycling through South America went missing on Jan. 25, and the family thinks they may have been kidnapped by a terrorist group.

Garrett Hand, 27, and Jamie Neal, 25, both cycling enthusiasts, were last heard from in Perú when they began their journey from Cuzco to Lima. The couple had been in South America since late November where they biked through Argentina and Chile into Peru.

The couple was last heard from when Hand checked in via his Facebook account at the Cruz del Sur bus station in Cuzco.

“We’re going to Pucallpa, Peru,” Hand wrote in Spanish on his Facebook page. “But first we need to get to Lima.”

Friends and family of the couple have set up their own Facebook page to monitor tips and information regarding the whereabouts of Hand and Neal, and the State Department has said that it is working with Peruvian authorities to track down the pair.

“There's a part of me that thinks someone has taken them," Jennifer Neal, the missing woman’s sister, told Fox News on Monday.

The U.S. embassy in Lima issued a travel warning last week to tourists heading to the country's famed Inca citadel of Machu Picchu and other parts of the Andean nation on the threat of kidnappings.

The warning drew vehement objections from Peruvian officials Friday, but a U.S. Embassy official said credible evidence exists of a threat from a Peruvian terrorist group.

The official confirmed a report in the Peruvian newspaper “La República” that said leaders of the cocaine-financed Shining Path outlaw band discussed kidnapping foreigners, principally Americans, in intercepted communications. Tens of thousands of Americans visit Peru each year.

The embassy’s website says a "criminal organization may be planning to kidnap U.S. citizen tourists in the Cuzco and Machu Picchu area. Possible targets and methods are not known and the threat is credible at least through the end of February 2013."

Along with the U.S. Embassy and the couple’s families, a bike shop that Neal worked at in the San Francisco Bay Area has raised $4,000 in reward money in a quest for information leading to the pair’s whereabouts.

Both Neal and Hand are experienced cyclists and travelers, with Neal working as a mechanic at the Pedaler Bicycle Shop in El Sobrante, California and Hand working as a commercial fisherman in Alaska. Before their trip, the two lived in Oakland, California.

"We still have yet to hear from Garrett or Jamie," a posting on the Missing in Peru Garrett Hand and Jamie Neal’s Facebook page noted. "There has been no contact with any family members or friends as well as no financial activity or social media activity from either of them. However, we keep our hopes high and are so grateful for the amazing job Peru and America have done in coming together to search for our loved ones."

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