NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania — A 24-year-old Canadian man sentenced to 18 months in prison in Mauritania for alleged ties to al-Qaida's North Africa branch has been freed but remains under surveillance, a Mauritanian official said Tuesday.
The official, who insisted on anonymity because he was not directly responsible for the release, said Aaron Yoon would be kept under watch by Mauritanian police until he was sent back to Canada. The official did not say when that would happen.
Yoon reportedly travelled to the region in May 2011 with two other Canadians who were implicated in a terror attack on a BP-operated natural gas plant in southeastern Algeria earlier this year, one of the largest attacks in recent memory. It ended with the deaths of 37 hostages including American, French, Irish and Japanese nationals. The attack was claimed by Moktar Belmoktar, a former commander of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, who split off from the al-Qaida chapter late last year in order to create his own group.
In April, Canadian police confirmed the identities of two Canadians who were killed in the attack: Ali Medlej and Xristos Katsiroubas. Algeria's government has said they were involved in the attack as hostage takers.
Earlier this month, an appeals court ordered Yoon's release after he was sentenced to 18 months in prison – the same amount of time he had already served. Yoon was also ordered to pay a $2,000 fine.
Prosecutors had sought a 10-year sentence for Yoon due to what they claimed was his "link to dangerous terrorist activity and his role in the recruitment of jihadists." Yoon has denied that he had any ties to terrorism, claiming he came to Mauritania only to learn Arabic and study the Quran.
During several visits by Amnesty International Canada in June and July 2012, Yoon claimed he was tortured in detention, leading him to sign a confession that was used against him at every stage of the case, according to a statement issued last month by Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada.
Canadian foreign affairs spokesman Jean-Bruno Villeneuve said Tuesday that Canada was "aware that a Canadian jailed in Mauritania is in the process of being released" but declined to comment further.
Associated Press writer Rob Gillies contributed to this report from Toronto, Canada.