Father Ali Elamine leaves court. Photo / Getty Images
Father Ali Elamine was one step ahead of the would-be abductors at every stage of the operation thanks to a secret network across Beirut.
From the moment Tara Brown, her crew and his estranged wife Sally Faulkner stepped off the plane, it’s believed he knew their movements.
He had been reading his spouse’s emails about the planned abduction on her iPad, and had cut off communication to prevent her from tracking him and the children.
Lebanese policemen surround Australian TV presenter Tara Brown while escorting her from a Lebanese courthouse to Baabda Prison for women, in Baabda east of Beirut. Photo / Getty Images
When the desperate Brisbane mother arrived in Lebanon, surf school owner Mr Elamine was ready.
The Lebanese-American was rapidly tipped off about her arrival by associates, according to Fairfax Media. In the two days leading up to the botched abduction, a suspicious car was spotted trailing three-year-old Noah and five-year-old Lahela on their way to school.
When Ms Faulkner’s hired recovery agents grabbed the kids off the street on April 7 in the Hadath district – a Hezbollah stronghold – Mr Elamine was inundated with phone calls from the tight-knit southern Beirut Shiite community.
That’s when the 32-year-old phoned his estranged wife to check the children were safe, and police used the call to trace and arrest the mother, the agents and the 60 Minutes crew.
The bail hearing was postponed on Monday while lawyers for the different parties try to reach a deal, and Mr Elamine appears to hold the key to the Channel Nine crew’s freedom in his hands.
The Lebanese-American has conveyed mixed messages about how he will use that power, with his lawyer telling journalists he was “in no hurry” to reach an agreement.
Earlier this week, Mr Elamine told News Corp journalists “Channel Nine dropped the ball” and he was inclined to “charge everyone involved”, because “if Sally goes out on bail, they all get out”.
He has insisted he was not interested in money, but Ms Faulkner’s lawyer Ghassan Moghabghab told News Corp: “Everything Ali is doing leads to one conclusion, that he is aiming for money.”
The 60 Minutes crew (clockwise from top left) Tara Brown, Ben Williamson, Stephen Rice and David Ballment.
Mr Moghabghab revealed that Mr Elamine had said $250,000 or $350,000 meant nothing to him when it came to his children – suggesting any payout would have to be higher.
The Australian’s Jacquelin Magnay told 2UE radio the well-off Elamine family were likely to want a “big public apology” and “an enormous amount of compensation to repair their respectability”.
Mr Elamine may have something of an axe to grind. He told The Australian he had been portrayed in a bad light by the Australian media, with A Current Affair wrongly portraying him as an Islamic State fighter when covering Ms Faulkner’s story.
He told 3AW’s Neil Mitchell that he would not have been shown any compassion if things were the other way around.
“If the tables were turned and I had shown up in Australia and tried to kidnap someone, I probably would have been shot and called a terrorist,” he said.