A B.C. man detained in Syria since late last year has been released, Lebanese authorities said Friday.
Kristian Lee Baxter, who has been described by his family as a “world traveller,” thanked the Lebanese government for securing his release in a televised news conference in Beirut.
Local media reported Baxter broke down in tears as he described his eight-month ordeal.
“I thought I would be there forever,” Baxter told reporters. “I would like to thank the Lebanese for helping me get free.”
Lebanon’s general security chief, Abbas Ibrahim, said Lebanese mediation helped secure the Canadian’s freedom.
Baxter, who is from Nanaimo, B.C., was detained in Syria in December after seeking adventure in the war-ravaged country.
Ibrahim said Baxter had been held since last year for “violating Syrian laws” but he didn’t elaborate.
Canada’s ambassador to Lebanon, Emmanuelle Lamoureux, said she was “delighted with today’s outcome,” adding that “we have our Lebanese friends to thank for it,” according to a report from The Daily Star newspaper.
A statement from Global Affairs Canada said the government is “relieved” at Baxter’s release.
“We would also like to express out appreciation to the government of Lebanon for its assistance,” said the statement.
Global Affairs also said consular services will continue to be provided to Baxter and his family.
Baxter’s mother, Andrea Leclair told The Canadian Press last January, that her son messaged her daily because she was worried after he arrived in Syria on Nov. 26, but he went silent after his last message on Dec. 1.
Leclair described her son as “a world traveller and adventurer” and said he visited a village near the border of Lebanon at the invitation of his girlfriend’s brother-in-law.
She said Baxter was supposed to be home Dec. 13 and his travel visa to Syria expired on Dec. 12 or 13.
Bruce Tober, a former co-worker of Baxter’s in Nanaimo, said he watched an interview with Baxter in Lebanon Friday morning and felt shock and disbelief at the news of his friend’s release.
“I watched the interview and he looks shockingly well,” Tober said. “You just don’t know what to expect. You always think the worst, but he looked terrific in the interview and I’m just walking on Cloud 9 right now.”
The two men worked together at a home appliance retailer. Tober described Baxter as “just a really decent human being.”
“With all the bad things happening in the world these days it’s nice to chalk one up in the win column for a change,” he said.
Baxter’s mother made a statement about her son’s release in a letter issued via the family’s legal counsel Friday afternoon.
“I’m ecstatic that Kristian is on his way home,” said Andrea Leclair, from the family’s residence in Nanaimo. “Our family is grateful for the efforts of Global Affairs Canada, which worked consistently, relentlessly, and professionally for Kristian’s release and collaborated with our professional consultants, Calvin Chrustie and Timo der Weduwen, of InterVentis Global, and John Weston, of Pan Pacific Law Corporation. We also thank the Lebanese government for its key role in the release.”
The letter also said Baxter’s mother and his stepfather, Jean-Guy Leclair, had not heard from Baxter since days after his arrival in Syria. Baxter had visited the Middle East, including Syria, intending to visit historical and cultural sites. The family is not aware of any charges brought against him, however, believe he may have broken regulations relating to travel requirements in Syria.
In the letter the family also expressed their thanks to others “involved in supporting them, locally, nationally and internationally and also requested privacy in anticipation of Kristian’s arrival in Canada.
The government has been warning Canadians to avoid travelling to Syria since 2011 after the outbreak of a civil war that has attracted foreign powers and spawned a multitude of militias, including a new Islamist terror group, while leaving an estimated 500,000 people dead.
Canada severed diplomatic relations with Syria in 2012, expelling its diplomats and shuttering its embassy.
— With files from The Associated Press, local media, Chris Bush/Nanaimo News Bulletin
The Canadian Press