“I didn’t know if anyone knew if I was alive,” said Kristian Lee Baxter, struggling to speak as he choked back tears while sitting alongside Canada’s ambassador to Lebanon and the Lebanese security chief in Beirut.
Baxter, wearing a grey t-shirt, was detained while traveling in Syria last year, though it was not clear what he was doing there and the Canadian ambassador Emmanuelle Lamoureux said she could not give any details about the case.
Baxter thanked both the Canadian embassy and the Lebanese authorities for helping him get out of Syria. Lamoureux thanked Lebanese security chief Abbas Ibrahim, who last month mediated the release of a U.S. citizen in Syria.
Ibrahim said Baxter had been detained for reasons related to breaking Syrian law.
“I thought I would be there forever,” Baxter said.
“I didn’t know if anyone knew if I was alive,” he added, and then began to sobs.
It was unclear what Baxter was doing in Syria at the time of his detention. Sam Goodwin, the U.S. citizen freed last month, had been traveling in Syria without a visa.
Several Western citizens have been held in Syria since the civil war began there in 2011, including some by jihadist groups such as Islamic State.
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.
Reporting by Tom Perry and Laila Bassam; Writing by Angus McDowall