60 Minutes, Sally Faulkner: Mom remembers her children in Lebanon after being torn from them
A mother who was arrested in Lebanon after flying to Beirut with a 60 Minute TV crew to retrieve her ‘kidnapped’ children has told of her joy after reminiscing with her children in a series of calls online video.
Sally Faulkner can be seen talking with her two eldest children Lahela, 11, and Noah, 9, about their time together in Australia in a post recently shared on Instagram.
In 2015, their father and Ms Faulkner’s ex-husband Ali Elamine flew the sibling to Lebanon, triggering a failed operation to retrieve them from the streets of Beirut, backed by a Channel Nine TV crew.
Ms Faulkner said she was about to ‘explode with happiness’ after showing Lahela how she always treasured her daughter’s possessions and kept them safe.
“I pulled out Lahela’s jewelry box and showed her – which gave her a big smile,” Ms Faulkner wrote.
Sally Faulkner, pictured with her children Lahela and Noah in Australia before her ex-husband kept them in Lebanon
“She couldn’t believe I had kept everything to them. My heart is literally about to explode with happiness… I literally feel like I’m reuniting with their hearts, minds and souls.
The mother – who had three other children in Australia – said she and her eldest children also browsed through old photos from before they moved to Lebanon.
“Noah pulled out an old iPad full of old photos that they both said they would look at together every day to remember me,” she said.
“By doing this, it was as if their memory had been preserved…they remembered every detail of those times when I grabbed the camera and took their pictures.”
Last year, Ms Faulkner said she would be “closing the curtain” on her online presence for a while.
“I do this for several reasons,” she said. ‘When I started this page I had two subscribers – it was a blog page where I uploaded thoughts and it was a place to pour out my grief, when I knew no one else around I didn’t understand my sadness or couldn’t listen to my words anymore.
She said she hoped her children would “one day stumble upon them and know that I was thinking of them every moment and never stopped loving them.”
Lahela and Noah (pictured) were all smiles during an earlier emotional reunion with their mother Sally Faulkner (inset, top right)
Lahela (pictured left) and Noah (right) pictured during Noah’s birthday celebration in Lebanon
“I think there’s enough to say for a while about my emotions and feelings around my situation and the paper trail is long.
“It’s time to really start focusing on rebuilding the person I really want to be and have been,” she said.
She added that she wanted to immerse herself in family time “and absorb every moment that is possible to absorb – good and bad”.
Ms Faulkner ended that post by saying: ‘So this is me saying goodbye for now and I’ll see you all on the other side where the grass really is greener.’
Ms Faulkner wanted to find her two children, who are in Lebanon with their father
That greener grass and her online comeback came with a FaceTime call with Lahela and Noah in November.
Of the hundreds of supporters who responded to Ms Faulkner, one simply said “WOW”. It just brought me tears of joy.
Another said: ‘Best thing I’ve seen all year. These smiles. So happy for you Sally. One more step.’
Many commentators wrote how beautiful the children’s smiles looked.
Another woman said it was the “best post on my Facebook ever”. You do not know me. I just followed your heartbreaking story along the way.
I felt for you and cried for you and your children. Although they are not in your arms, my God, your journey has come so far.
It’s such a wonderful, beautiful and truly touching moment, bravo.
Ms Faulkner had claimed her ex-husband Ali Elamine (pictured with the couple’s children) took the children to Lebanon without her permission
Lahela and Noah (both pictured) live with their father in Lebanon. Their mother hoped to find them
In April 2016, Ms. Faulkner and the The 60 Minutes team, including famous presenter Tara Brown, faces up to 20 years in prison and hard labor after being charged by Lebanese officials for their involvement in the failed kidnapping.
Ms Brown traveled to Beirut with three crew members in 2016 in a bid to reunite Ms Faulkner with Lahela, then five, and her son, Noah, then three.
Ms Faulkner said her ex-husband, Ali Elamine, kept the children in Lebanon without her permission.
The plan to snatch children from a Beirut street with the help of a child recovery team ended when the 60 Minutes team spent two weeks behind bars in Lebanon.
Ms Brown was arrested and charged over the attempted kidnapping alongside lead producer Stephen Rice, cameraman Ben Williamson, soundman David Ballment and Ms Faulkner.
They were released from prison after the charges were dropped.
Veteran 60 Minutes journalist Tara Brown (pictured centre) on a botched child recovery operation that resulted in her arrest by police in Lebanon
Brown (second left) was arrested alongside Brisbane mother Sally Faulkner (centre right), 60 Minutes producer Stephen Rice, cameraman Ben Williamson and soundman David Ballment
Tara Brown is pictured on her return to Australia from Lebanon, flanked by 60 Minutes producer Stephen Rice, who was later sacked by Channel Nine
Channel Nine reportedly paid Mr Elamine US$500,000 as part of the official settlement after rejecting an earlier offer of $350,000.
The botched operation had sent shockwaves through the 60 Minutes crew, with Alison Langdon – now a breakfast TV presenter – calling it “the worst day of my journalism career”.
Lebanon, unlike Australia, is not a party to the Hague Convention, a treaty designed to ensure the prompt return of children abducted internationally by a parent.
Producer Stephen Rice was later fired by Channel Nine after spending 32 years with the network.