British Columbia

B.C. man held in Syria after seeking adventure now released

A British Columbia man who went to Syria late last year to seek adventure and was then detained has been released, Lebanon's security chief said Friday.

'I thought I would be there forever,' Kristian Lee Baxter says at Beirut news conference

Canadian Kristian Lee Baxter, who was being held in Syria, became emotional during a news conference in Beirut on Friday following his release. (Mohamed Azakir/Reuters)

A British Columbia man who went to Syria late last year to seek adventure and was then detained has been released, Lebanon's security chief Abbas Ibrahim said Friday.

Kristian Lee Baxter of Nanaimo was detained for "reasons related to breaking Syrian law," Ibrahim said at a news conference in Beirut.

Baxter and Canadian Ambassador Emmanuelle Lamoureux appeared alongside Ibrahim, who last month mediated the release of U.S. citizen Sam Goodwin from Syria.

"I thought I would be there forever," Baxter said, thanking the Canadian Embassy and Lebanese authorities for helping him get out of Syria.

"I didn't know if anyone knew if I was alive," he added, and then began to sob, cutting short his comments.

Baxter, left, was held for months in Syria. He spoke at a news conference with Maj.-Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, Lebanon's internal security chief, centre, and Emmanuelle Lamoureux, the Canadian ambassador to Lebanon. (Mohamed Azakir/Reuters )

Lamoureux thanked Ibrahim, but said she could not give any details about the case.

"We are very relieved that Mr. Kristian Baxter has been released from Syria," Guillaume Bérubé, spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, said in an emailed statement.

Canadian consular officials have been "actively engaged" throughout the case and continue to provide services to Baxter and his family, the statement said.

Watch as Kristian Baxter speaks in Beirut: 

After shedding a few tears, Baxter thanks the Canadian Embassy and Lebanese authorities for helping him get out of Syria. 0:42

Bérubé said Global Affairs would not be releasing further information due to Canada's Privacy Act, but he expressed "appreciation to the government of Lebanon for its assistance."

Baxter's mother, Andrea Leclair, said in an interview last January that her son, who was 44 at the time, arrived in Syria on Nov. 26, 2018, but then went silent after his last message on Dec. 1.

Described as 'adventurer'

Leclair told The Canadian Press her son is a world traveller and "adventurer" who has been "all over the place."

Baxter was supposed to be home Dec. 13 and his travel visa to Syria expired on Dec. 12 or 13, she said.

Dennis Schmock, a resident of Denmark and Baxter's friend, met with him in Copenhagen in October when the Canadian was on his way to Syria.

Schmock said Baxter believed the region was stable and safe for travellers, and Schmock was a "history buff" who wanted to explore the area.

He said he and Baxter first met about 20 years ago while travelling in Israel. Schmock described his friend as "a bit foolish, but curious."

Schmock said Baxter shared pictures with him from Syria at the end of November before communication went silent.

Schmock had no idea why his friend was detained during his travels.

Several Western citizens have been held in Syria since the civil war began there in 2011, including some by jihadist groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The United States has said it believes U.S. 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.
 

With files from The Canadian Press, Bridgette Watson

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