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 mediated by the Lebanese authorities.
“I thought I would be there forever,” he said, after breaking down in tears.
“Honestly, I didn’t know if anyone would know I was alive,” he said, his grey hair trimmed short and 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.
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.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland told journalists in Calgary that she could not comment on what Ottawa did to help free Baxter as she thanked the Lebanese government.
“This is a good outcome, and I’m really relieved. As for the details, this is a private matter, and I cannot comment on that,” she said.
“I think this is also a case that should remind us all to exercise a high degree of caution when travelling to dangerous parts of the world.”
Described as an adventure traveller by his loved ones, Baxter had made no contact since arriving at a Syrian village where his brother-in-law was born.
He had travelled there despite the brutal war raging in Syria since 2011.
A Canadian official 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”.
The Syrian 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.
Last month, Lebanon said it had facilitated the release of a 30-year-old American after two months of detention.
Sam Goodwin had last been seen on May 25 in the city of Qamishli in northeast Syria after crossing from Turkey as part of his bid to visit every country in the world, The Washington Post reported.
A number of foreigners remain missing in Syria.
One of those missing is American journalist Austin Tice, who was kidnapped in Syria seven years ago this month by unidentified armed men after he had been reporting south of Damascus.
His kidnapping was never claimed by any organisation.
In December, Tice’s father said he believed the Syrian government was best placed to help bring the journalist home.