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Edmonton Imam Released In Saudi Arabia

Usama Alatar Canada Saudi Arabia Arrest

First Posted: 10/31/11 09:23 AM ET Updated: 11/01/11 10:57 AM ET


An Edmonton imam who was allegedly assaulted and detained in Saudi Arabia over the weekend thanked those who helped secure his release from what he described as "horrid conditions."


Usama Al-Atar was released Monday after being interviewed by local authorities. Massoud Shadjareh, the chair of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, told CBC News that Al-Atar was back in his hotel room resting after his taxing ordeal.


"As you are well aware I was falsely arrested and held by Saudi authorities for the best part of the previous 36 hours in what can only be described as horrid conditions," Al-Atar said in a statement. "I feel deeply relieved and very grateful to be free and reunited with friends."


"I would like to take this opportunity to give a few heartfelt thank you messages to the many organizations and people around the world who helped secure my release, without whom I am sure I would have been charged and imprisoned falsely for many months."


Al-Atar was in Medina taking part in the hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. He was leading a prayer service for an international group of pilgrims in a cemetery Sunday morning when religious police apparently approached him and assaulted him.


"They virtually strangled him. We saw him go black and blue," Mohammed Hayward, a British member of the group, said.


Al-Atar said because he will be staying in Saudi Arabia and continuing his religious pilgrimage "it would not, unfortunately, be sensible nor wise of me to conduct any media interviews.


" I apologize sincerely but I am sure you will understand why."


A Foreign Affairs Department spokesman said they were pleased that Mr. Al Atar had been released.


"Since learning of the case our mission has been engaging local authorities in Saudi Arabia on Mr. Al Atar's behalf," said John Babcock, a spokesman for Minister of State of Foreign Affairs Diane Ablonczy.


"We are pleased our partners in Saudi Arabia were co-operative in responding to our concerns on Mr. Al Atar's situation in a timely manner.".


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