BEIRUT (Reuters) – Canadian Kristian Lee Baxter, detained while travelling in Syria last year, was freed on Friday, the second Westerner released by the Syrian government in two weeks with help from neighbouring Lebanon.
Baxter broke down in tears at a news conference in Beirut after arriving in the Lebanese capital from Syria, saying he thought he would be held forever.
“I didn’t know if anyone knew if I was alive,” said Baxter, struggling to speak as he choked back tears sitting alongside Canada’s ambassador to Lebanon and a Lebanese security chief.
It was not clear what Baxter was doing in Syria when he was detained and Canadian Ambassador Emmanuelle Lamoureux said she could not give details about the case.
Baxter, wearing a grey T-shirt, thanked the Canadian Embassy and the Lebanese authorities for helping him get out of Syria. Lamoureux thanked Lebanese security chief Major General Abbas Ibrahim, who last month mediated the release of a U.S. citizen in Syria.
In Ottawa, Canada’s Foreign Ministry thanked the Lebanese government for its help and said in a statement it could provide no further details about Baxter’s release.
“Canadian consular officials have been actively engaged throughout this case and continue to provide consular services to Mr. Baxter and his family,” the statement said.
Ibrahim said Baxter had been detained for reasons related to breaking Syrian law. Sam Goodwin, the U.S. citizen freed last month, had been travelling in Syria without a visa.
“I want to thank the Syrian state for its cooperation with us in at least two cases in two weeks, with the release of the American Sam Goodwin and today with the release of Mr. Baxter,” Ibrahim said. “What we did was to reduce his detention time and as you can see, he is on his way to return to Canada.”
There was no immediate comment from the Syrian government.
A number of citizens from Western and other countries have been held in Syria since the civil war began in 2011. Some were taken captive by jihadist groups such as Islamic State, which killed a number of them.
The United States has said it believes U.S. journalist Austin Tice, held in Syria since 2012, is alive and Washington has sought the help of the Syrian government’s ally Russia to free him.
Last year the family of American Majd Kamalmaz told the New York Times he had disappeared at a government checkpoint in Damascus in 2017.
(Reporting by Tom Perry and Laila Bassam; Writing by Angus McDowall and Steve Scherer; Editing by Janet Lawrence)