BEIRUT: A Canadian man has been freed after being held for eight months by the Damascus authorities in war-torn Syria, the former detainee and Lebanon’s security chief said Friday.
British Columbia native Kristian Lee Baxter on Friday appeared at a televised press conference in Lebanon’s capital Beirut after his release. “I thought I would be there forever,” he said, breaking down in tears.
“Honestly, I didn’t know if anyone would know I was alive,” he said, wearing a grey t-shirt. Canadian media reported in early January that there had been no signs of Baxter, then 44, since December 1, 2018 after he arrived in Syria.
Baxter thanked his embassy in Beirut and Lebanese authorities for helping secure his release.
Lebanese security chief Abbas Ibrahim said Baxter had been detained since last year “for reasons linked to breaking Syrian laws,” without elaborating. “He is on his way back to Canada,” he said, thanking the Syrian authorities for what he described as their swift response on the issue.
Canada’s ambassador to Beirut, Emmanuelle Lamoureux, said she was unable to provide any more details.
“Due to privacy laws in Canada, I’m not able to comment on specifics of the case,” she said. Described as an adventure traveler by his loved ones, Baxter had made no contact since arriving at a Syrian village where his brother-in-law was born.
He had traveled there despite the brutal war raging in Syria since 2011.
A spokesman for Global Affairs Canada, which manages the country’s diplomatic relations, told AFP earlier this year that “a Canadian citizen has been detained in Syria,” without providing any further details, due to reasons of confidentiality.
He said “the security situation across Syria significantly restrains the Canadian government’s ability to provide consular assistance.”
Since the Syrian war broke out, Ottawa has urged Canadians to avoid traveling to the country. The conflict has killed over 370,000 people and displaced millions more since starting in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.
Canada cut diplomatic ties with Damascus after the conflict began.