Canadian, jailed in Mauritania for terror link, reported back home

Fri Jul 26, 2013 3:58pm EDT
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OTTAWA/NOUAKCHOTT (Reuters) - A Canadian man jailed for "terrorist conspiracy" in the west African nation of Mauritania arrived back in Canada under police escort on Friday after his sentence was cut on appeal, Canadian television said.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp and CTV News both quoted a government official as saying Aaron Yoon had flown into Toronto. Canada's foreign ministry said earlier in the day that it was aware Yoon had been released by Mauritanian authorities.

Security sources had said Yoon, 24, was arrested in December 2011 after attempting to join al Qaeda-linked Islamist fighters in northern Mali.

He was sentenced in July 2012 to two years in prison and ordered to pay a fine of 5 million ouguiyas ($18,000). The trial was not made public at the time, however, and his imprisonment only came to light this year.

On July 14, a court in the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott, reduced his sentence to 1-1/2 years, meaning he had technically finished serving his sentence.

The chief spokeswoman for Canadian Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney was not immediately available for comment when asked whether Yoon had flown back to Canada.

Yoon's case highlights how a number of Westerners have passed through Mauritania to join Islamist fighters in Mali.

Yoon, a Catholic convert to Islam from London, Ontario, told authorities he had arrived via Morocco to study Arabic and the Koran, attracted by the prestigious reputation of Mauritania's Koranic schools.

In April, Canada said two other English-speaking nationals from London, Ontario, Xristos Katsiroubas and Ali Medlej, had taken part in a mass hostage-taking at a natural gas facility in Algeria in January.

About 70 people, including the two Canadians, died when Algerian troops stormed the plant.

(Reporting by Laurent Prieur in Nuakchott and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Peter Galloway)