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Family: 21-year-old freed by Syrian authorities

Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) – A 21-year-old who disappeared for three weeks after returning to Syria from suburban Detroit was released by Syrian authorities Wednesday, his family said.

Obada Mzaik, who has citizenship in the U.S. and Syria, had flown to Damascus from Detroit Metropolitan Airport on Jan. 3 but wasn’t seen leaving an immigration checkpoint.

An uncle in Michigan said the Syrian government released Mzaik to his father there on Wednesday.

“We’re grateful that he’s back with his family, and we’re grateful to the community for showing support to the family during difficult days,” Dr. Firas Nashef, a dentist from the Detroit suburb of Farmington Hills, said in a statement.

The State Department said Wednesday night that it did not yet have any information on the release and was working to get details from its representatives in Syria.

Mzaik is a native of Columbus, Ohio, and was planning to study civil engineering at Syria’s Al-Yarmouk University. He had been temporarily living in the Detroit area with a younger brother while taking classes at Oakland Community College.

Obaie Mzaik, 19, flew with his older brother but wasn’t detained, Nashef said.

The State Department said this week that it was aware of the matter and was working with authorities in Syria. On Jan. 11, the U.S. government urged Americans to get out of Syria and to avoid any travel there.

Nashef said the family returned to Syria in 1994 when his nephew was about 3.

“Most of his life he’s been in Syria,” Nashef had told The Associated Press on Monday.

Mzaik was detained for 37 days in Syria in early summer 2011, but there were no official charges, his uncle told The Detroit News on Monday. Mzaik’s mother suggested he leave Syria for safety, so he traveled with his brother to Farmington Hills in August, Nashef said.

He said the boys’ mother wanted them to remain longer in the U.S., but Obada Mzaik wanted to return to register for classes at Al-Yarmouk University.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)