Former Australian soldier involved in 60 Minutes child snatch operation in Beirut
A bungled child recovery attempt involving a 60 Minutes television crew being detained in Lebanon has evolved into a major diplomatic incident amid persistent allegations a gun was used and children’s lives were put at risk during the operation.
Children grabbed in dramatic operation
CCTV reportedly shows a European child-retrieval service grabbing the children of Brisbane woman Sally Faulkner off the streets of Beirut. Vision: Channel Nine.
Meanwhile, it has emerged a former Australian soldier was involved in running the controversial child recovery business that was part of the attempt to snatch the children from their father’s family at a Beirut bus stop on Thursday.
The botched operation unfolded after Brisbane woman Sally Faulkner travelled to Lebanon to recover her two children Lahela, 6, and Noah, 4, from their father, Ali Elamine.
Sally Faulkner with her children Lahala and Noah. Photo: Facebook
Ms Faulkner was working with United Kingdom based Child Abduction Recovery International (CARI) to take the children from Mr Elamine, who runs a surfing business in Beirut.
60 Minutes reporter Tara Brown, producer Stephen Rice, soundman David Ballment and a cameraman were also in Beirut to film the incident and Ms Faulkner being reunited with her children.
But after CARI snatched the children early Thursday morning and handed them over to Ms Faulkner, the CARI staff were arrested, as were the 60 Minutes team.
Ms Faulkner managed to remain free for 24 hours with the children but earlier on Friday gave herself up to police who took the children and returned them to Mr Elamine.
60 Minutes reporter Tara Brown Photo: Supplied
It is not clear what motivated her to turn herself into police, however her staying on the run with the children may have had major legal implications for the 60 Minutes crew and the CARI employees.
A grainy video from a shop CCTV camera was circulated on local television showing the moment the men snatched the children from Mr Elamine’s mother, the children’s grandmother, near a Beirut bus stop.
The video shows two large men manhandling the children away from the grandmother and her female companion. A third man appears to be filming the event using a distinctive hand-held camera. One of the women appears to be flung to the ground in the scuffle and another is violently pushed away when she tries to grab the children.
Following the snatch the grandmother, Ibtissam Berri, gave interviews to local media alleging she had been pistol-whipped in the struggle.
“One hit me with his pistol on my head and I fainted and there were bruises on my body,” the ABC has reported her as saying in the interview.
The ABC also interviewed Mr Elamine, who said the snatch endangered the children.
“What if someone armed passed by and saw the scene and started to fire? We are in Lebanon here. If they started to shoot, they could have hit one of the children. They could have shot my mother.”
In what may have been part of the plan to snatch the children, Mr Elamine had left his grandmother with the children while he went to deal with a booking at his surf business for four people to go windsurfing. But the four people never showed up.
Channel Nine has reported that Mr Elamine has said he would not be pressing charges.
On Thursday 60 Minutes executive producer Kirsty Thomson rejected allegations about any guns.
“Our crew were not at the snatch. My understanding is no guns,” texted Ms Thomson who took over the executive producer job at Nine’s flagship high budget current affairs program in February.
60 Minutes has declined to comment on claims made in by the Daily Mail that Channel Nine paid $120,000 to CARI to undertake the child recovery.
CARI has regularly been embroiled in a number of failed child abductions, some of which have left its employees in jail.
The agency has been advertised as being run by former Australian soldier Adam Whittington. Mr Whittington’s LinkedIn profile lists him as having served in the Australian Army from January 1991 to January 1998 before stints in the London Metropolitan police. The profile describes Mr Whittington as the CEO and founder of CARI, which he started in 2000.
A blurb on the page states: “All operatives at CARI are from elite military and police units who have joined together for one purpose, to recover children from situations they do not deserve to be in.
“Over the last 13 years since we carried out our first recovery, we now assist government and non-government organises in recovering children being dealt with in sex trafficking.”
An emergency telephone number on the CARI website did not appear to be working yesterday.
It is thought Mr Whittington has a British passport and resides in Europe. It is not clear whether he has been caught up in the Lebanon arrests.
Local police reported arresting a UK national associated with the operation who was found and detained on a boat that was moored of the coast.
Mr Whittington was previously jailed in Singapore for 18 months over a child abduction case.
A Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman said it had no comment about Mr Whittington.
DFAT officials visited on Friday to check on the welfare of the Australians who had by then spent two nights detained in a Lebanese police station.
On Friday Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said “very very professional” Australian consulate staff were “very focused” on ensuring the 60 Minutes crew were being looked after.
Lebanese Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk was reported by Reuters to have said the 60 Minutes crew were detained on suspicion of their involvement in a child kidnapping.
Ms Faulkner’s new husband who is in Australia, has declined to comment given the sensitivity of the situation.