Sally Faulkner: Insiders reveal why plan to retrieve children from Lebanon was doomed.

It seems from day one the plan to “snatch” Sally Faulkner’s children from the streets of Beirut was doomed.

Tonight’s Australian Story looks at what went wrong with the plan, and how Ms Faulkner and her children, Lahela and Noah, were lucky to have not been hurt or even killed in April this year.

The new information has emerged from players on the ground including the Lebanese driver who drove the abduction car, the woman who sheltered Ms Faulkner and her children in the safe house, as well as police.

It is claimed when the recovery team led by Adam Whittington of Child Abduction Recovery International or CARI sailed into Beirut, intelligence authorities became suspicious.

Mr Whittington moored the boat in a small marina near the five-star Movenpick Hotel, where the four members of the 60 Minutes crew who were reporting on the recovery attempt were staying.

Intelligence officers monitoring new hotel guests obtained scans of their passports.

“They had simply done a Google search,” said Martin Chulov, of The Guardian’s Beirut bureau.

“They had worked out that among them were a couple of very well known Australian television correspondents so they knew something was up.”

He said on the day of the abduction, intelligence authorities saw members of the abduction crew leave the hotel in a small grey car, but they did not follow it.

Driver says kids were screaming.

Local man Khaled Barbour was hired to drive the car.

“The day started at about 6:00am. We picked the Westerners up near the Movenpick. I was the driver,” he told Australian Story.

Mr Barbour drove Ms Faulkner, the 60 Minutes cameraman and two members of the recovery team to Sainte Therese, a southern suburb of Beirut, where her estranged husband Ali Elamine and her children lived.

The “snatch” took place as the children’s grandmother and maid walked them to school.

“The cameraman in the front starts filming the children and the grandmother,” Mr Barbour said.

“I was surprised, what kind of filming is this? The kids were yelling and screaming, and the foreigners were yelling.”

Mr Barbour said the children were crying when they got into the car.

Ms Faulkner told Australian Story she kept telling them, “It’s mummy, it’s mummy,” and repeating their names.

“It was literally a matter of moments Lahela actually turned, looked at my face and took a breath and went, ‘It’s mummy,’ and in that moment my heart opened up and I felt like just all this love that I’d been dying to show them poured out,” she said.

‘Everyone has a machine gun there.’

Meanwhile Mr Barbour was starting to panic.

“I saw people running, neighbourhood folk, I think, running at the car,” he said.

“It was my fear that got me out of there.”


The Sainte Therese area where the recovery took place is in a Hezbollah-controlled part of Beirut, where security is tightly controlled.

“The army has orders to shoot any car going towards a checkpoint opposite the traffic, and at the blind speed I was going the army would have shot,” Mr Barbour said.

“If the army had shot at the car, no one would have gotten out alive.”

The plan to abduct the children from the streets of Beirut could have ended in bloodshed for Ms Faulkner and her children, according to her Lebanese lawyer, Ghassan Moughabghab.

“Everyone has a machine gun there,” he said.

Dr Sami Nader, director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs in Beirut, agreed.

“Beirut is not really the kind of place you can snatch kids,” he said.

“It is not only, well, ill-conceived and ill-executed, it was a bad idea at the inception.”

Dr Nader said he understood Ms Faulkner was desperate but that the idea was “insane”.

‘It was difficult for her to move freely.’

Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Moussallem of Beirut’s Internal Security Forces said it was important for authorities to act fast before the children were taken out of Lebanon.

“We had patrols in all Lebanese areas, internal security forces were also patrolling,” he said.

“[Sally Faulkner’s] position in general, as a foreign woman in Lebanon, it was very difficult for her to move freely.”

Yasmine Hamza, who lived in the safe house where Ms Faulkner and the children hid, said she had no idea there had been an abduction until she saw Lebanese television news.

Ms Hamza described the mounting tension when Ms Faulkner and the children were left alone in the safe house, after the 60 Minutes team departed.

Unable to contact Mr Whittington or the 60 Minutes crew, Ms Faulkner begged Yasmine Hamza to let her and her children sleep overnight.

“We didn’t know what we were supposed to do,” Ms Hamza said.

“I can’t throw a woman with her kids out onto the street. Our hands were tied.”

Ms Faulkner has given a detailed account to Australian Story of her harrowing night at the safe house, knowing it was only a matter of time before police caught up with her. She also talked about her two weeks in prison.

Ms Faulkner, who is now living back in Brisbane, is facing kidnapping charges in Beirut which carry a potential penalty of between three and seven years in jail.

She has not seen or spoken to her children since leaving Beirut in April this year.

Watch Australian Story’s “When Plans Change” tonight at 8pm on ABC TV.

This post originally appeared on ABC News.

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