A 24-year-old Canadian man jailed in North Africa for ties to al-Qaida will soon be released from prison, a Mauritanian prosecutor said.
Aaron Yoon, of London, Ont., was arrested in Mauritania in December 2011 and served 18 months behind bars for his connection with al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, the jihadist organization’s North African franchise.
Now that he has completed his sentence, he will be expelled from Mauritania, prosecutor Ahmed Ould Abdalla told the Canadian Press
Yoon has denied having any ties to terrorism, saying he only came to Mauritania to learn Arabic and study the Koran.
The government there disputes his protestations of peaceful intent, pointing to reports that he traveled to the region together with two Canadian jihadists involved in the January siege at a natural-gas plant in Algeria which ended with the deaths of 37 hostages including American, French, Irish. and Japanese nationals.
Responsibility for the attack was claimed by Moktar Belmoktar, a former commander of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, who split off the group to create his own jihadist organization.
Yoon’s traveling companions were Ali Medlej and Xristos Katsiroubas, Canadian militants killed at the Algerian gas facility. The Algerian government said the pair were involved in the siege as hostage-takers.
Yoon said he did not know how the Medlej and Katsiroubas became linked with militants, saying he only learned about the Algeria attack while in prison in Mauritania.
During several visits by Amnesty International Canada, Yoon claimed he was tortured into confessing by Mauritanian authorities, who beat him with sticks until he lost consciousness.
The group’s secretary-general, Alex Neve, said his organization has no way of verifying claims that Yoon was linked to al-Qaida.
“But it was very clear to us that there are serious human-rights concerns, including torture,” he said. Neve also said Yoon was forced to sign a confession that was not translated into English for him.
Neve said he did not know when Yoon would be allowed to leave Mauritania, but said his most immediate wish is to rejoin his family.
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