Lebanese intelligence helped foil the plot to bomb an Abu Dhabi-bound flight from Australia, Lebanon’s interior minister said on Monday.
Lebanese intelligence “uncovered an operation that was going to take place on an Emirati flight from Australia to Abu Dhabi, and it was going to be executed by a Lebanese national from the north” of Lebanon, Nohad Al Mashnouk said.
The mastermind of the operation was Tarek Khayyat, a Lebanese-Australian who is a senior ISIL member in Raqqa, Syria. His three accomplices were his brothers, Mr Al Mashnouk said.
One of the brothers is in detention in Lebanon and the other two are being held in Australia.
“They are four Lebanese-Australian brothers who had a personal vendetta, and one of them, [Tarek], moved to Raqqa in Syria and joined ISIL, and our intelligence kept track of him,” the interior minister said. “The plan was to blow up the plane 20 minutes after it took off, but the operation failed due to the luggage [weight limit].”
The bombs were hidden inside a large Barbie doll and a meat grinder and placed in a handbag that was seven kilos over the weight permitted by the airline, Mr Al Mashnouk said.
According to reports, one of the brothers never made it past check-in with the luggage. Investigators said they believe the bag with explosives was either too heavy to have been stowed on board the flight or the plotters had second thoughts.
Mr Al Mashnouk said the luggage holding the bombs was taken back to the plotters’ home. The plotters attempted to get two bombs on to the plane in case one failed to detonate, he said.
The attempt to bomb the Etihad Airways flight, which was carrying about 400 people including 120 Lebanese, was meant to be “a message for the UAE”, he said.
He said the brothers wanted to punish the UAE and Australia for being part of the US-led coalition that is targeting ISIL.
Two of the brothers — Khaled and Mahmoud Khayyat — were charged in Australia with two counts of planning a terrorist act. The charges carry a maximum punishment of life in prison. They are scheduled to appear in court again on November 14.
Australian police described the plane-bombing attempt as one of Australia’s “most sophisticated” militant plots and said the two men had also planned to build a device to release poisonous gas in a public area.
The third brother, Amer, who was supposed to be on board the plane, was arrested in Lebanon after he arrived in mid-July from Australia.
“Intelligence branch followed on the case and found that Amer was involved in this act and it appears that he was supposed to carry it out,” Mr Al Mashnouk said.
Amer had travelled between Australia and Lebanon several times under pretexts such as coming to get engaged or get married, he said.
He said Lebanese police intelligence started tracking Tarek’s brothers after he moved to Raqqa.
“When four Lebanese brothers in Australia decide to blow up an Emirati jet this means that the whole world should work together to fight terrorism,” Mr Al Mashnouk said. “Co-ordination should be 24 hours a day between all security agencies to stop such attacks.”
Australian police said the high-grade military explosives used to build the bombs had been sent by air cargo from Turkey as part of a plot “inspired and directed” by ISIL.
Etihad Airways has said it was working closely with the Australian investigation.
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