60 Minutes child-abduction case: Faulkner farewells children in Beirut, heads home to Australia

Sally Faulkner is on her way back to Australia after saying goodbye to the two young children she has been forced to leave behind in Beirut following a botched child recovery attempt.

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Ms Faulkner was in tears after leaving the children she kissed and hugged – possibly for the last time in a long while – at a play centre in Beirut, far from the cramped prison cell she had been in for the past fortnight as the saga played out in Lebanon’s courts.

Forced to trade custody of Lahela, 5 and Noah, 3, for her freedom, Ms Faulkner ate ice cream with them before saying goodbye.

“The visit was good, Sal had fun, the kids had fun, that’s all that matters,” her estranged husband Ali Elamine said outside the court later on Thursday.

“She’s their mother and obviously they are going to enjoy time with her.”

There were no tears while the children were present, but their mother cried once they left, he said.

Ms Faulkner is reportedly flying back to Brisbane.

When asked whether it was right to separate the children from their mother, Mr Elamine replied: “No, no, we are discussing that, Sal and I, right now. If she is not here, she can Skype them and whenever she feels the need or wants to come over.”

He confirmed he would not be letting the children go back to Australia any time soon, saying he wanted things to settle down.

“Then maybe a few years down the line, yeah, why not?”

But he said he was open to a visit in a third country such as the UAE or Cyprus.

Speaking to Nine Network shortly after her release, Ms Faulkner said: “I love them and Mummy’s sorry that it all worked out this way. I tried.

“I hope I can see them one day again in Australia, I really do.”

Ms Faulkner’s lawyer, Ghassan Moughabghab, said under the custody agreement that secured her release, she can visit the children in Lebanon or a third country, but not in Australia.

Mr Elamine agreed to drop the personal charges against Ms Faulkner and the 60 Minutes TV crew who were arrested with her, allowing them to be released on bail while investigations into the state’s case continue.

Ms Faulkner’s time with the children on Thursday was her last chance to see them before returning to Australia, where her three-month-old baby and new partner await.

The visit was expected to take place in the office of Judge Rami Abdullah, who oversaw Mr Elamine’s decision to drop charges against his estranged wife, 60 Minutes journalist Tara Brown and her crew, Ben Williamson, David Ballment and Stephen Rice.

However, Mr Elamine arrived without the children, and the visit ultimately took place under the supervision of an Australian embassy official away from the court.

The TV crew returned to Australia from Beirut on Thursday night and were met in Sydney by a media throng.

Ms Brown told reporters she was glad to be home, before the group was escorted to two vans waiting outside.

Judge Abdullah has warned the criminal case against them would continue to be investigated.

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If charges of kidnapping and being a member of a criminal gang are laid, they would be expected to return to Lebanon to face the court, he said.

Ms Faulkner says she spent nine months trying to regain custody of her children, who were taken to Lebanon for a three-week holiday by Mr Elamine early last year and not returned.

She and the Nine crew were arrested and jailed earlier this month after a child-recovery team seized the children from a Beirut street as they were walking with their Lebanese grandmother.

The case against the two men heading the recovery team, dual Australian-British citizen Adam Whittington and Briton Craig Michael, is ongoing.

Both men were questioned by Judge Abdullah on Thursday before being taken back to their cells.

Two Lebanese men involved in the April 6 abduction plot are also facing charges.