A Chatham, Ont., man is speaking out for the first time about the torture he faced at the hands of an al Qaeda affiliate in Syria.

Sean Moore, a husband and father of three who went to the Middle East last year with Jolly Bimbachi in an effort to bring her children home, spoke with CTV Windsor. He and Bimbachi returned home last week.

“I’m in Canada. I’m smiling. I’m happy. I’ve never been more happy in my life,” he told CTV News. “But it’s still hard to believe that they let me go.”

Moore had traveled to the Middle East several times since 2014 on humanitarian trips. He said he had even helped a family flee Iraq for the U.S., which gave him the confidence to travel to Lebanon last year to help Bimbachi, also from Chatham, bring her two young sons home to Canada after their father never brought them back.

Their mission was a failure, Moore said. He claims Bimbachi’s ex-husband put a gun to his head during failed negotiations. Days later in Lebanon, Moore and Bimbachi devised a plan to use smugglers to bring her kids home. But their efforts ended in 26 days of what Moore called physical and psychological torture. He said he ended up in a 5-by-3-foot prison cell, accused of espionage and sentenced to 10 years in prison for child abduction. The physical torture was brutal, Moore said. He was beaten with a rubber paddle for two weeks, and he said his cell was intentionally filled with urine and feces. Moore said that was “probably worse than the beatings.”

At one point, Moore said he almost took his own life. “They gave me a can of food and I was able to use the lid, and I was going to use that lid to remove blood from my body enough to no longer be alive,” he said.

Given very little food, Moore lost more than 50 pounds by the end of his 26 days in captivity. Then he heard someone calling his name in the prison.

“I’m like, that’s me—oh my goodness,” he recalled. It was the Syrian Salvation Government, a rebel alternative government of the Syrian Opposition, who Moore said told him he could go home if he appeared before local media to declare that they rescued him. He said he paid his own ransom of US$30,000 and would like to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to discuss Canada’s role in the Middle East.

During Moore’s hellish month behind bars in Syria, Bimbachi and her two sons were taken to a home and treated well in comparison to Moore. But now back in Canada, Bimbachi is still without her sons. “It’s a challenge every day,” she told CTV Windsor.

“Wherever I go, I’m reminded of them and I’m reminded that they’re not with me and it’s hard.”

With files from CTV’s Stefanie Masotti.