BEIRUT (AFP) – Lebanese authorities on Thursday detained an Australian woman for allegedly abducting her two children and an Australian television crew as well as two Britons accused of involvement.
The crew were filming an operation by a child recovery agency involving two young children from Australia who were in Beirut with their Lebanese father.
The two children disappeared on Wednesday while waiting for their school bus.
Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces said in a statement that they had detained the Australian mother who was with her two children in Beirut.
“The woman and her two children are in ISF custody after being located in a home in Beirut 24 hours after their kidnapping,” a source from Lebanon’s interior ministry told AFP.
The ISF had detained the four-member television crew from Channel Nine’s 60 Minutes programme earlier on Thursday for questioning.
The two children, meanwhile, were “handed to their father, based to a judicial order,” the ISF later tweeted.
It also said in a separate tweet that “five Australians among them the mother, two British and two Lebanese citizens, were arrested in the kidnapping”.
The mother of the children, identified by Australian media as Sally Faulkner, has said their Lebanese father, from whom she is divorced, took them for a holiday and then allegedly refused to return them to Australia.
“The woman made an agreement with the 60 Minutes programme from Channel Nine to come help her recover her children from Lebanon,” a security source told AFP.
The source said the children had been taken while with their grandmother and there was a plan for them to be removed from Lebanon by boat.
Australian media said the two children are a six-year-old girl and a four-year-old boy.
A grainy video of the incident released by Lebanon’s Al-Jadeed television showed the children walking with an older figure, reportedly their grandmother.
Several figures jump out of a nearby car and carry the children into the vehicle, which then speeds off.
Channel Nine said that the crew had been unreachable for 15 hours but were later tracked down to a Beirut police station and put in contact with Australian consular officials.
“It is a relief to know that Australian officials are about to speak to them,” a network spokesman told the channel’s evening news bulletin. “The crew knew that this was a risk, going to do this story.”
Australian media named two of those held as reporter Tara Brown and producer Steven Rice.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in a statement that the pair have been “offered all appropriate consular assistance”.
It is the second time an Australian television crew has been detained overseas in recent weeks after two Australian Broadcasting Corporation journalists were held in Malaysia for trying to question Prime Minister Najib Razak about multiple scandals swirling around him.
They were soon released and deported.