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Maryland man jailed in Libya returns home

The Baltimore man who traveled to Libya in February at the start of a political uprising there said he was never in the country as a journalist but as a supporter of the revolutionaries.

"I was supporting the revolution when I got captured. My mother didn't know, my girlfriend didn't know [the real reason for going]," Matthew VanDyke said Saturday night on his return to Baltimore. "I wasn't going to sit back and let this happen to people I care about."

Dressed in fatigues, VanDyke, 32, arrived at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport around 9 p.m. He was greeted by his mother, Sharon VanDyke, a retired principal of Federal Hill Preparatory School who lives in South Baltimore, as well as members of his church and friends. Longtime girlfriend Lauren Fischer, a Baltimore elementary school teacher who lives with VanDyke in Butcher's Hill, arrived just after his flight came in.

VanDyke originally said he traveled to Libya to chronicle the uprising in writing and on video. In March, he was captured and put in jail for nearly six months by dictator Moammar Gadhafi's forces.

"When I was in prison, I thought I wasn't going to get out for 30 years or forever," VanDyke said Saturday. To pass time in prison VanDyke said he sang Guns N' Roses tunes and tried to remember the names of every "Star Trek" character.

After his release in August, which followed the fall of Tripoli, VanDyke stayed on in Libya to rejoin the revolutionaries seeking to overthrow the regime. This decision caused consternation among politicians and aid organizations that had been working for months to broker his release and assure his safety.

Gadhafi, who took over the nation in a 1969 coup, was captured and killed in mid-October.

Libyan rebels had been supplying VanDyke with clothing, lodging, food and transportation, VanDyke's mother said. On Saturday, he showed off a glass trophy he said he received from the revolutionaries as well as a rebel military ID card.

VanDyke said he does not regret letting people think he was a journalist and he tried to clarify that as soon as he was released.

After making several media appearances in the coming week arranged by his mother and Fischer, VanDyke said he was going to start training to support future revolutions in the Middle East. "If you saw the look on the people's faces right when they taste freedom for the first time, that's something you'll never forget."

An earlier version misspelled Lauren Fischer's name. The Sun regrets the error.

steve.kilar@baltsun.com

twitter.com/stevekilar

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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