By Matt Brown.
Concern is mounting for an Australian mother and Channel Nine crew detained in Lebanon after a botched child recovery operation.
Lebanese authorities say they have uncorroborated evidence Nine paid for the operation, which saw the children of Australian mother Sally Faulkner snatched off a Beirut street.
It appears to have been an attempt to get the children back to Australia after their Lebanese father, Ali el-Amien, took them to Lebanon last year and refused to let them return.
But four men accused of grabbing the children have been detained along with Ms Faulkner and a four-member crew from Chanel Nine, which was filming a story with her.
Authorities say they now have a signed statement from a member of the “recovery team” who says Nine paid $115,000 for the operation.
However, that statement is uncorroborated, the ABC has not seen it and cannot confirm the claim.
Next week, the police are expected to pass the investigatory brief onto the prosecutor.
At times during their detention, Nine reporter Tara Brown and Ms Faulkner have been kept shackled together with handcuffs.
At one point, although separated from Tara Brown, Ms Faulkner still had handcuffs dangling from one wrist.
Authorities say, despite earlier media reports, no firearms were recovered when the “recovery team” was detained.
Ms Faulkner has been desperate to get her children back to Australia.
Lebanon is not a party to an international agreement covering such disputes.
And Lebanese law, based on religion, is heavily stacked against the mother once children reach a certain age.
But Lebanese officials see the operation as a mix of arrogance and stupidity.
The area where the two children were grabbed in south Beirut is heavily patrolled and monitored by Hezbollah and Amal, two powerful Lebanese political and militia organisations.
And the father’s family is politically connected.
His mother is a cousin of the speaker of Lebanon’s parliament, Nabih Berri.
He leads the Amal movement and has ready access to an enormous security apparatus, which includes control of ports and airports.
On top of that, Mr el-Amien told the ABC he knew, to a degree that they were coming because one of the children’s iPads still had access to Ms Faulkner’s email account and he saw messages detailing early discussion of the operation.
The ABC has not seen that email traffic.
Mr el-Amien claims he warned Ms Faulkner not to try to get the children back but did not let her know he had inside knowledge about her alleged plans.
While the route the children took each morning would have been easiest for the “recovery team” to check and re-check during surveillance, it is also in the midst of dense traffic and they were grabbed close to peak hour, making a complete getaway difficult.
Channel Nine has been contacted for comment.
This post originally appeared on ABC News.
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