Aaron Yoon is pictured here with other students while in grade 12 in a copy of the 2005-06 South Secondary School yearbook.
Credits: CRAIG GLOVER The London Free Press / QMI AGENCY
LONDON, Ont. -- Aaron Yoon isn't in a north African prison as reported, but studying the Qur'an in Mauritania, his family says.
That, despite Canadian officials seeming to confirm the opposite late Wednesday night.
"We are aware of a Canadian who has been detained abroad," Foreign Affairs officials said in an e-mail response to direct questions about Yoon's reported imprisonment in Africa.
The Londoner -- who was raised Catholic and attended South Collegiate, along with two men now linked to January's bloody terror attacks in Algeria -- converted to Islam a few years ago and unofficially changed his name from Aaron to its Arabic form, Harun.
And while intrigue swirls around where he is now, a spotlight is also trained on his past and how his personality changed so drastically, leaving behind a complex portrait of a man in transition -- a man who's personality took a "180" after converting to Islam several years ago.
Yoon's family said earlier Wednesday they believe he is studying in Mauritania, which borders Algeria.
"I don't know how Aaron could be in prison," said a man who identified himself as Yoon's brother. "I don't know where that's coming from."
During the interview, his mom took the phone briefly to defend her youngest boy.
"My son is not involved in anything. I don't know what is going on," she said, before the brother returned, saying he wants privacy for his parents.
He said his family is "confused" by news reports Aaron is in prison.
Those reports suggest Yoon traveled to Africa with Ali Medlej and Xristos Katsiroubas -- school friends who became radical extremists, then terrorists -- but that Yoon was jailed before his friends went on to plan the attacks.
But as far as Yoon's family knows, he met his friends once in Morocco, travelling with them for awhile before they parted ways and he remained in Mauritania.
"Thank God he wasn't there, he wasn't there," said the brother. "It's got to be tough on Xristos and Ali's families."
Aaron Yoon learned last week from family in Canada that his friends had died in the attacks, his brother said.
"I broke the news to him," he said, adding his family had been contacted by a law enforcement agency.
"He seemed genuinely shocked."
Yoon converted to Islam in recent years -- his new faith welcomed by his family, who felt Islam made him "more respectful and non-confrontational ... a totally better person," the brother said. "It was like he did a 180."