Jan. 15, 2004. 06:31 PM
Muayyed Nureddin, 36, was the principal of an Islamic school in Scarborough.
Haggard Canadian held in Syria arrives home


A Canadian citizen arrested by Syrian authorities more than a month ago looked haggard and nervous today as he arrived home full of gratitude for the officials who secured his release.

Syrian authorities released Muayyed Nureddin more than a month after he tried to return home through Syria from his native Iraq. He was travelling with his brother Ahmed, who last saw him Dec. 11.

"I would like to thank the Canadian government and the Canadian Embassy in Jordan . . . for their work, who worked very, very hard to release me from Syria," Nureddin said after arriving at Pearson International Airport on a flight from Amsterdam.

"I believe without their efforts, I (would) not be out in such a short time."

Nureddin, who sweated profusely and looked nervous during his brief statement, wouldn't talk about how he was treated in Syria, nor did he answer other questions from the crush of reporters who greeted him.

"I'm glad to be home and I'm tired," he said. "I need a few days to relax."

Nureddin, 36, an Iraqi-born geologist who came to Canada in 1994, was a former principal at the Salaheddin Islamic school in Toronto.

Nureddin's friend, Tawfik Kettanah, said he too wants to know the details of why Nureddin was being held in Syria, but is more worried for the moment about the welfare of his friend.

"To see why he was detained, find out what the charges are, that's what we care about," Kettanah said. "I just want to see he's OK, that's what matters for now."

Kettanah has said Nureddin's school and the Salaheddin mosque have both been closely monitored by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and that in September, CSIS agents questioned him about Nureddin a week after he drove his friend to the airport for the trip to Iraq.

Foreign Affairs spokesman Andre Lemay said consular officials began working with Syrian officials to secure Nureddin's release as soon as they learned he was being held in the capital of Damascus.

He said the department had been "specifically asked (by the family) not to release the information" on why Nureddin had been detained.

Asked whether Nureddin had been tortured while in custody, Lemay replied: "At this point we were asked not to comment on that at his request."

Nureddin's homecoming came as Foreign Affairs confirmed that a Canadian citizen jailed in Egypt as a terrorism suspect for the past two years had also been released from prison.

Ahmad Abou El-Maati, 39, a truck driver and devout Muslim who was initially jailed in Syria in November 2001, was freed yesterday and abruptly appeared on his mother's doorstep in Cairo.

"He was there in detention with, to the best of our knowledge, no charges laid against him, but he was kept in detention under the country's emergency laws and he was deemed by Egyptian authorities to be a national security risk," said Foreign Affairs spokesman Reynald Doiron.

"He is with his family now and intends to spend some time in Egypt. There is no date known for his return to Canada at this time."

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