BEIRUT – An Australian mother and TV crew caught up in a high-profile child custody battle and detained in Beirut amid a botched attempt to take the woman's two children from their Lebanese father were released on bail on Wednesday.
Ali al-Amin, the father of the two children, ages 3 and 5, said he dropped attempted kidnapping charges against his estranged Australian wife Sally Faulkner and the Channel 9 TV crew, because he "didn't want the kids to think I was keeping their mother in jail."
Faulkner and the four-person TV crew, led by prominent Australian TV journalist Tara Brown, hugged each other outside a jail in Baabda, a Beirut suburb, before they were driven off in a white minivan. They were escorted by an Australian Embassy vehicle.
The release of the five was a climax in a family drama — complete with the involvement of a prominent television crew — that has gripped headlines both in Australia and the Middle East.
The five Australians are implicated in the operation to seize the two children from Al-Amin two weeks ago. Two Britons and two Lebanese have also been charged in the case but they remain in jail.
Faulkner surrendered any custody claims to the two children in Lebanon as part of a deal struck with al-Amin in front of a judge Wednesday, her lawyer said.
"She will accept that the children will stay with their father," said the attorney, Ghassan Moughabhab, who acknowledged that al-Amin had received a judgment earlier in his favor from a Lebanese religious court. "Taking into consideration the Lebanese law, he's in the right."
Al-Amin said he would raise the young children in Lebanon and would allow Faulkner to visit them. He said he could imagine taking the children to visit their mother in Australia, but only at some point in the future.
"When everything cools down and we come to our senses in regards to all this, then yes," said the father.
"There's still a bit of tension but at the end of the day, we have to come to some sort of balanced relation between her and I," he added.
Investigative Judge Rami Abdullah said the state still has to review whether to drop public charges against the suspects, but that Faulkner and the camera crew would be free to leave Lebanon once they post bail.
"There is a crime that happened, and everyone has a role in the affair," said Abdullah.
The judge also said Faulkner and the TV crew will be expected to return to Lebanon to stand trial if the public charges are not dropped. He said his office will review the case. Last week, he said the nine suspects face up to 15 years in prison if tried and convicted of the charges.
The suspects also face charges filed by al-Amin's mother, who was struck and knocked to the ground during the incident two weeks ago. Al-Amin said she suffered a head injury but was recovering.
Faulkner has a three-month old child with another father, in Australia.