Lebanon court acquits 'meatgrinder' bomb plot suspect
Lebanese-Australian man freed but two of his brothers were found guilty and another is believed to have joined ISIS
Lebanon’s military court acquitted one of the four brothers accused of planning to blow up an Etihad Airways flight from Sydney to Abu Dhabi two years ago, his lawyer told The National.
“Amer Khayat was acquitted last night at 8pm and will be released later today from Roumieh prison,” said Jocelyn Al Rahi in her office near Beirut on Thursday.
Lebanese authorities arrested Amer in August 2017.
He was suspected of trying to smuggle two bombs in a meat-mincer and a Barbie doll in his hand luggage on an Etihad Airways flight bound for Abu Dhabi.
The attack failed at the last minute when a woman working at the Etihad Airways check-in told Amer the bag was too heavy.
Amer’s brother Khaled removed the meat-mincer and doll, allowing Amer to board the flight to Abu Dhabi. He then travelled on to Lebanon where he was arrested a few weeks later.
At first, Amer confessed to knowing about his brothers’ plans but retracted his confession when he was taken before a judge, Ms Al Rahi said.
Australian daily the Herald Sun said the two bombs were set to detonate 20 minutes after take-off from Sydney on the airliner that could accommodate 400 passengers.
Ms Al Rahi said evidence showed that Amer was innocent and that he was fooled by his brothers who had asked him to take presents to their family in Lebanon.
“There are messages on his mobile phone saying he is going to pick up the presents,” she said.
“He took a return ticket to Lebanon, took holiday from his work, and during the time he was in Lebanon before he was arrested, he called his brothers asking what was happening.
“To this day, he does not understand why his brothers wanted the plane he was travelling on to explode."
Ms Al Rahi said Amer's “weak” personality led him to confess at first. She said she had no reason to believe he had been tortured into a false confession.
From inside Roumieh prison, Amer said last year: “I am innocent and the police in Australia know I am innocent. They have said it."
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported this year that the Australian Federal Police said Amer knew nothing about the bombs and that they were hidden in his bag by his brothers Mahmoud and Khaled, who are also Australian citizens.
Born in 1978, Amer is originally from the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli.
Ms Al Rahi said he moved to Australia in 2001, where he worked in a cleaning company. He married an Australian woman and acquired Australian nationality.
The Herald Sun reported that the now-divorced couple had two daughters aged 11 and 15.
The military court in Beirut sentenced Amer’s three brothers – Khaled, Mahmoud and Tarek – in their absence to life with hard labour, Lebanon's National News Agency reported on Wednesday.
Arrest warrants were issued against the three men who were stripped of their civil rights in Lebanon.
The ABC reported that Tarek was wanted by Lebanese authorities for a clash against the Lebanese Army in Tripoli in 2014. He fled that same year to Syria where he became an ISIS commander.
Last October, an Iraqi court sentenced Tarek to death for his role with ISIS.
Khaled, 51, and Mahmoud, 34, are in prison in Australia, where they were charged with plotting to blow up the Etihad Airways flight and carry out a lethal poisonous gas attack.
Khaled was found guilty in May of conspiring, between mid-January and late-July 2017, to prepare or plan a terrorist act.
But the New South Wales Supreme Court jury failed to agree on a verdict for his brother.
Mahmoud faced a retrial and another jury found him guilty of the same charge on Thursday afternoon, a few hours before Amer was acquitted in Lebanon, AAP reported.
Australian prosecutor Lincoln Crowley said that the two siblings plotted with their older brother Tarek and a fourth unidentified person connected with Tarek, the “controller”.
After Amer’s hand luggage was turned back by airport authorities in Sydney in July 2017, Khaled proposed that he would arrange to take the bomb, Mr Crowley said.
"The controller told him not to do that because he had to stay for the continuation of the work here and had to find someone else," he said.
The second plot involved poisonous gas that the older brother was going to make at his home after instructions from the “controller”.
The Australian Department of Home Affairs did not respond to a request for comment.
Shortly after the arrest of Khaled, Mahmoud and Amer in 2017, then Lebanese interior minister Nohad Machnouk said that the men wanted to punish the UAE and Australia for being part of the US-led coalition against ISIS.
Mr Machnouk praised security officers for their work in the international action to apprehend the men.
Updated: September 20, 2019 01:06 AM