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Canadian man freed after eight months of detention by Syrian authorities

Kristian Lee Baxter says he feared he would never be released after being detained in November 2018
Canadian citizen Kristian Lee Baxter, who was being held in Syria, next to the Canadian ambassador to Lebanon, Emmanuelle Lamoureux, at a news conference in Beirut following his release (Reuters)

A Canadian man has been released after eight months of detention by Syrian authorities, the former prisoner and Lebanon's security chief said at a news conference in Beirut on Friday. 

Kristian Lee Baxter, 45, was detained while travelling to Syria last year. 

According to Canadian media, his mother, Andrea Leclair, had described her son as an "adventurer" and "world traveller".

"I didn't know if anyone knew if I was alive," the British Columbia native said, struggling to speak as he choked back tears while sitting alongside Canada's ambassador to Lebanon, Emmanuelle Lamoureux, and the Lebanese security chief, Abbas Ibrahim.

'I didn't know if anyone knew if I was alive'

- Kristian Lee Baxter

The Canadian government has issued travel warnings against travelling to war-torn Syria since the uprising and the ensuing deadly military conflict broke out there in 2011. The country has also severed its diplomatic relations with the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad since 2012.

Baxter arrived in Syria on 26 November 2018, and went missing a week later following his arrest.

"He is on his way back to Canada," Abbas said, thanking the Syrian authorities for what he described as their swift response on the issue. 

The ambassador said she could not give any details about the case.

"Due to privacy laws in Canada, I'm not able to comment on specifics of the case," she said.

Baxter thanked both the Canadian embassy and the Lebanese authorities for helping him get out of Syria.

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Lamoureux thanked Ibrahim, who last month mediated the release of US citizen Sam Goodwin in Syria.

Ibrahim said Baxter had been detained for reasons related to breaking Syrian law.

"I thought I would be there forever," Baxter said.

Several Western citizens have been held in Syria since the civil war began there in 2011, including some by militant groups such as the Islamic State.

The United States has said it believes US journalist Austin Tice, who has been 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 another American, Majd Kamalmaz, told the New York Times that he had disappeared at a government checkpoint in Damascus in 2017.