Lebanese authorities “knew something was up” after they discovered a well-known Australian television journalist had arrived at a luxury Beirut hotel, hours before the botched 60 Minutes kidnapping.
This was the first time the 60 Minutes team – in Beirut to film the recovery of Sally Faulkner’s children from her estranged Lebanese husband Ali Elamine – registered on local intelligence radars during the fateful operation, according to Monday night’s Australian Story.
The bungled abduction led to Ms Faulkner, reporter Tara Brown, her television crew and a child abduction team led by Australian Adam Whittington to be held in a Beirut jail cell for two weeks – or 104 days in Mr Whittington’s case.
The presence of the television crew and two more crucial decisions made by Ms Faulkner and 60 Minutes respectively were vital in the operation ending in disaster, local experts told Australian Story.
Local reporter with The Guardian, Martin Chulov, who followed the case, explained how authorities were put on to the scent of the abduction.
“There were intelligence officers in the lobby [of the 60 Minutes‘ crew hotel] who would have gathered all of the scans of the new arrivals and they’d simply done a Google search,” Mr Chulov said.
“They’d worked out that among them were a couple of very well-known Australian television correspondents, so they knew something was up.
“On the day of the abduction itself the intelligence officers see members of the abduction crew, who they knew had come from the boat, leave the hotel in a small grey car.”
This car and those travelling in it was “phoned in” and this began to unravel Mr Whittington’s plan, which was funded and to be filmed by the 60 Minutes team for a story.
The next mistake from 60 Minutes, according to Mr Chulov, was the safe house where Ms Faulkner was taken with her children after the abduction.
Watch how Lebanese security rumbled 60 Minutes:
“Filming Sally being reunited with the children was essential to the story and the safe house was where this very emotive interview was going to take place,” he said.
“The safe house, within hours of the abduction, had become compromised. So it became a place that wasn’t safe at all, a place that was central to their downfall.”
Ms Faulkner’s Lebanese lawyer Ghassan Moughabghab also questioned the decision to stay in the country and go to the safe house.
“Instead of leaving the country directly, they stayed and they used their mobile telephones, never thinking that they can be found out by the security forces,” he said.
“This is something unbelievable.”
He went on to slam Ms Faulkner for not listening to his advice before launching the abduction.
Mr Moughabghab said he told Ms Faulkner to send him the Australian court order giving her custody of the children, advising her it would have a good chance of securing them from their father.
“I knew that Sally got a judgement from the Family Court of Australia giving her the custody,” he said.
“I advised her to send this judgement to me so I can execute it here in Lebanon. I don’t know for what reason she didn’t do that, although I was following her, asking her all the time.”
Mr Moughabghab said the Nine Network paid Mr Elamine $500,000 for him to drop the charges against Ms Faulkner and the 60 Minutes team. The group could still face charges brought by local Lebanese authorities.