The two children at the centre of an apparent custody dispute in Lebanon have been reunited with their father, after their Brisbane mother was accused of hiring an agency to try and bring them to Australia.
Sally Faulkner has been detained by authorities in Beirut, along with an Australian media crew said to have been reporting on an attempted recovery operation.
Three-and-a-half year-old Noah and six-year-old Lahela are now back in the arms of their father Ali el-Amien.
The Beirut surf shop owner says he understands why their mother Sally Faulkner might try to take them back.
(Translated)”At the end of the day, she’s a mum. If I was in her position I would have done the same thing. But I don’t think I would have done it the same way. I would have gone and tried to discuss face to face.”
CCTV captured what is said to be a botched abduction attempt.
Footage released to the media appears to show two women walking along a street, when two people emerge from a parked car and snatch two small children accompanying them.
There’s a struggle, and the youngsters look to be rushed into a car and driven off — leaving the women, identified as the children’s grandmother and nanny, behind.
Noah and Lahela’s grandmother, Ibtissman Berri, says she was taking them to school when the incident occurred.
(Translated)”A big TV camera was being carried by a man who was filming us and faster than lighting two men came out. One hit me with his pistol on my head and then I fainted and there are some bruises on my body. Then he hit the girl when she resisted. I was trying to catch hold of the boy and screaming and shouting. They kidnapped the children but nobody heard me.”
Sally Faulkner says her ex-husband took the children from Brisbane on holiday to the Lebanese capital last year and never returned them.
In a video posted online, Ms Faulkner begged the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to intervene.
“My children were born in Australia and have lived with me all of their life. I need you to do something to help bring my babies home.”
Ali el-Amien says the family lived in Lebanon until 2013 when Ms Faulkner took the children to Australia.
Mr el-Amien says he stayed back as his income was based in Lebanon.
And he suggests the two parents made arrangements regarding their children’s custody.
(Translated)”I told her, ‘either the two of them come and live with me, or the two stay with you’. She said, ‘just come and have them for Summer’. I told her ‘okay’.”
Meanwhile, the Nine Network has confirmed efforts are underway to secure the release of its television crew, detained by Lebanese police in connection with the incident.
The group from the 60 Minutes program was apparently filming what local authorities are treating as a suspected kidnapping.
Sally Faulkner and some others, thought to be from an international agency specialising in so-called child recovery, are also being held.
The Department of Foreign Affairs says officials from the Australian embassy in Beirut have visited the Australians in prison to confirm their welfare, and are providing consular assistance.
Australian-based lawyer, Betty Abou Hamad, defended Ms Faulkner to the Lebanese media.
(Translated)”What the mother has done is a legal act, 100 per cent. The mother has the right to take her kids anywhere and to bring them back. In Australia it is not illegal to do so. In Lebanon she may have done one thing wrong which is she entered the country illegally by boat.”
But Lebanese lawyer Paul Morkos says that’s not how it’s viewed in Lebanon.
(Translated)”The Lebanese law applies to all crimes committed within Lebanon. The act is very strict especially on kidnapping underage kids and makes the penalty stricter.”
It’s not known if or when charges will be laid.