Sunday 19 January 2020

Four Australians and Briton detained in Lebanon on kidnapping suspicion

The Australian flag flies outside a compound that houses the Australian Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon (AP)
The Australian flag flies outside a compound that houses the Australian Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon (AP)

Lebanese authorities have detained four Australians, including journalists, on suspicion they were involved in the alleged abductions of two children in Beirut the previous day, police officials and Australian media said.

A British citizen has been detained as well on suspicion that he planned to smuggle the children out of Lebanon on his boat, the officials also said.

The five are being questioned over the alleged kidnapping of the son and daughter of a Lebanese man and an Australian woman. The children have been living in Beirut since their father brought them from Australia last year, the officials said.

The alleged kidnapping, in which the children were taken on Wednesday after an attack on their Lebanese grandmother as she was taking them to school near their home in Beirut, was part of a family dispute, the police said.

On Thursday, police first said the mother and the children were at the Australian Embassy but later, the Lebanese intelligence department declared the mother was detained and was being held by police with her children, state-run National News Agency reported. It did not say where they were found but added that the children were safe.

The officials did not give the names of the Australians and the Briton.

The Australian detainees include journalists working for Channel Nine's 60 Minutes, who were filming an episode on the issue in Lebanon.

60 Minutes reporter Michael Usher told Nine News in an interview broadcast on Thursday that Australian consular officials in Beirut were in contact with the 60 Minutes crew.

"Our obvious concern is that we have not been able to speak to the crew for going on 15 hours now and that's obviously been very concerning for all of us here," Mr Usher said.

Mr Usher added that the journalists detained in Beirut are very experienced and prepared for the difficulties of covering what he called, "a risky operation, a risky story - this desperate Australian mum trying to get her two Australian children home".

A Beirut police official said the five detainees were being held at a police station near the place where the boat was parked in the Lebanese capital. During questioning, the journalists said they came on a humanitarian mission and that their aim was not to kidnap the children, he added.

Channel Nine issued a statement saying that: "We can confirm a crew from 60 Minutes has been detained in Beirut. We won't be giving out any more details, other than to say we are working with authorities to get them released and back home ASAP."

A Channel Nine employee said that the 60 Minutes crew was not physically present when the alleged kidnapping took place.

Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop said her ministry has been in contact with Channel Nine. A statement from Bishop said Australian authorities are "urgently seeking to confirm the crew's whereabouts and welfare, and have offered all appropriate consular assistance."

PA Media

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