Australian mother, TV crew freed on bail in Lebanon abduction case

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Beirut (AFP)

An Australian woman and four journalists accused of kidnapping her children from their Lebanese father in Beirut were released on bail Wednesday after he dropped the charges against them.

Sally Faulkner and the Australian television crew were charged last week for reportedly abducting Faulkner's two young children from their father, Ali al-Amin, in the Lebanese capital.

"I have agreed to release the Australian crew and the mother on bail after the children's father and grandmother dropped the personal charges against all five of them," judge Ramy Abdallah told a packed courtroom.

Faulkner and the crew from Channel Nine's "60 Minutes" programme were seen being released late Wednesday afternoon.

Faulkner and reporter Tara Brown looked relieved as they walked out of Lebanon's women-only jail northeast of the capital into a nearby van.

Her producer, cameraman and sound recordist were released from the courthouse in Beirut.

According to Channel Nine's chief correspondent Tom Steinfort in Beirut, the crew "is in a van headed for Beirut airport".

The crew and Faulkner still face charges by Lebanon's public prosecutor, but they can be sentenced in absentia.

Speaking to journalists after the hearing adjourned, Amin said Faulkner would be able to see the children, but said that he had full custody.

"I told her, you're their mother and you'll stay their mother. This is their country just like Australia is their country," said Amin.

- Faulkner 'regrets' operation -

He said he had not told his children that their mother was in jail, but that she was travelling.

Asked whether he was angry with the Channel Nine crew, Amin said: "They're people, just like everyone. They were probably just doing their job, they probably didn't expect it to go that way."

His lawyer Hussein Berjawi said Faulkner's bail had been set at one million Lebanese pounds (about $660).

Amin has not dropped his charges against two Britons and two Lebanese who allegedly helped in the abduction, Berjawi told AFP.

Faulkner's lawyer Ghassan Mughabghab told journalists his client had struck a deal with Amin granting him full custody of the children in line with Lebanese law.

His client "regrets" what she did, Mughabghab said.

Faulkner has said that Amin, from whom she is divorced, took them for a holiday to Beirut and then allegedly refused to return them to Australia.

She had been reportedly working with a child recovery agency to bring back the children, and the TV crew was recording the operation.

A grainy video of the April 6 incident released by Lebanon's Al-Jadeed television showed the children walking with an elderly person said to be their grandmother.

Several figures jump out of a nearby car and snatch and carry the children into the vehicle, which then speeds off.

The television crew was arrested the following day and Faulkner was later found with the two children at a home in Beirut.

Both children, who Australian media said are a six-year-old girl and a four-year-old boy, are now with their father in a southern Beirut suburb.