08/09/2019 12:42 EDT | Updated 08/12/2019 09:35 EDT

Canadian Kristian Lee Baxter Freed After Months Of Detention In Syria

"I thought I would be there forever," the man says after his eight-month ordeal.

BEIRUT — A British Columbia 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,” spoke from Beirut and thanked the Lebanese and Canadian governments for securing his release.

He broke down in tears during a televised news conference as he described his eight-month ordeal.

“I thought I would be there forever,” Baxter told reporters. “I didn’t know if anyone knew if I was alive.”

Lebanon’s general security chief, Abbas Ibrahim, said Lebanese mediation helped secure the Canadian’s freedom.

He also said Baxter was detained for what Syrian authorities considered a “major violation” of local laws, but didn’t elaborate on comments that Syrian officials may have considered the incident security related.

Baxter, who is from Nanaimo, B.C., was detained in December 2018 after seeking adventure in the war-ravaged country.

“I would like to thank the Lebanese for helping me get free,” he said.

Reaching out to hold the shoulder of Canadian Ambassador Emmanuelle Lamoureux, who also attended the news conference, Baxter acknowledged the aid of Canadian officials.

“I’d just like to thank the Canadian Embassy for helping me,” he said.

Baxter’s release marked a “wonderful day for Canadians” said Lamoureux, who also thanked the Lebanese authorities for helping with this “wonderful outcome.”

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.

The Lebanese General Security Directorate/AP via CP
Kristian Lee Baxter makes an appearance at a news conference Friday in Beirut.

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, 2018, but he went silent after his last message days later 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.

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

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