‘Barbie’ bomb plotters facing the death sentence in Lebanon

WTF are they here? Who in the *&%#@ brought these Islamic killer zombies to Australia and why should Australian taxpayers be burdened with keeping them safe in jail?

JACQUELIN MAGNAY/The Australian

Khaled Khayat. Picture: Supplied.Khaled Khayat.

An alleged Islamic State terror cell of five Lebanese-born men, two of whom are Australians in custody in Sydney, face the death penalty  as a Lebanese military court prepares to hand down a sentence for the alleged Barbie bomb plot intended to ­explode an Etihad plane over NSW last year.

The Weekend Australian can reveal that the alleged bomb ­attack, which would have killed 400 passengers and crew 20 minutes into the flight from Sydney to Abu Dhabi on July 15 last year, was allegedly formulated inside the Islamic State caliphate capital Raqqa when two teen­agers fighting for the terrorist group, ­Mohammed and Abdul Rahman Khayat, were killed eight months earlier.

The alleged terrorist cell may have been relying on inside ­assistance at Sydney airport to smooth the bombs’ path through security points, as some evidence before the military court seems to suggest one of the alleged bombmakers had aviation links. The person with the airport link is named in the military court file as a relative of those charged in Australia over the terror plot.

However, the man has not been charged in Australia and it is extremely unlikely Australia would agree to an extradition ­request for him to face trial for an offence that could result in capital punishment.

National security sources have told The Weekend Australian they are confident they have got the entire cell and there is no ongoing risk.

Senior Lebanon military court judge Alaa Khatib has finished a lengthy investigation into the alleged terror cell’s conspiracy to murder — which also allegedly threatened the lives of people under the flight path of Etihad flight 455. He has recommended the court impose the death penalty based on each of the charges of Lebanon’s Penal Code articles 335 and 549 and section 5 and 6 of the Terrorism Act. A sentencing trial before the president of the military court, Brigadier General Hussein Abdullah, will begin in Beirut on May 4. Of the five accused, only one, Amer Khayat, a dual Australian and Lebanese citizen, is in ­custody in the Lebanese prison Roumieh, to the north of Beirut, and would be the first to face the firing squad. The others, who ­include three of Amer’s brothers, two in Sydney, and a third hiding in Syria, along with another Sydney-based relative, will be tried in absentia.

All are accused of being members of a terrorist group, preparing terrorist acts and of attempted mass murder by trying to take two bombs onto the flight. It is alleged one was a self-timed bomb in a Barbie doll which would have detonated the second bomb, concealed inside a meat mincer hidden in Amer’s hand luggage. The attack was only averted when the check-in clerk insisted that Amer’s hand luggage, which weighed 11kg, was overweight, and the clerk would not allow him a small second handbag he was clutching which contained the doll-bomb.

National security sources in Australia have told The Weekend Australian the other Sydney-based relative, who was named by Amer in Lebanon, was thor­oughly investigated at the time of the incident by both the Australian Federal Police and intelligence services, and interviewed at some length. The Weekend Australian has been told no evidence was uncovered implicating him in any element of the plot.

Australian national security authorities are believed to be aware of Amer’s admissions to Lebanese authorities but are treating them with caution. It is understood Amer’s version of events has changed repeatedly over the course of his incarceration and he is known to have suffered psychological problems.

An AFP spokesman yesterday confirmed federal police had worked with partner agencies and conducted a “thorough and comprehensive investigation into this matter”, including “engagement with international partners”.

“As this matter is still before the court in Australia, it is inappropriate for the AFP to comment,” the spokesman said.

Brothers Khaled and Mahmoud Khayat appeared briefly in Parramatta Court this month. They have been charged with two counts of planning a terrorist act. They waived their right to a committal hearing and the matter is now slated for trial.

Separately, following an investigation by The Weekend Australian, it has emerged there are two sharply different versions about Amer Khayat’s culpability that have been presented to the Lebanese court. In Lebanon there is concern that despite there being some doubt about his guilt, he could lose his life.

Amer directly told the investigating judge he was unaware of the bombs and believed his family had turned on him because he had brought disgrace to Islam by drinking, getting tattoos, gambling and having a past drug ­addiction. “My brothers have set me up,’’ he told the judge.

He claimed he was utterly confused when his elder brother Khaled — with whom he was close — took him to see a relative to “say goodbye’’. Khaled had insisted Amer return to Lebanon to visit some of his brothers and sisters “because they missed me’’. At his relative’s place he was allegedly handed the meat mincer and Barbie doll to take as gifts for his relatives in Lebanon.

This is interesting:

AFP Deputy Commissioner Mike Phelan alluded to the belief that Amer was a patsy in a press conference shortly after the plot was made public. But a written version given to the Lebanese military court says Amer had confessed, desiring pride for his family after recently becoming more religious, and that he wanted to atone for his previous non-­religious lifestyle by becoming a suicide bomber. “For me to change my life I have to do something big. To blow myself up will bring back pride to the family and fix the mistakes I have made in my life,’’ he is understood to have written.

“He wanted to atone for his previous non-­religious lifestyle by becoming a suicide bomber.” Let that sink in for a minute. How many Islamic suicide attacks do we know of where Mohammedans with a ” previous non-­religious lifestyle” turned into mass-murderers to please allah?

Mohammed Khayat, who was killed in Palmyra Syria.
Mohammed Khayat, who was killed in Palmyra Syria.

Amer, 40, had lived in the Sydney suburb of Lakemba since ­arriving in Australia in 2001, aged in his early twenties. He married an Australian Lebanese woman to get a residency visa. Two of his eight brothers were in Sydney at the time: the extremely religious Khaled, an electrician, now 51, from Lakemba, and Mahmoud, now 33, from Punchbowl, as was another relative in Surry Hills.

Another brother, Tarek, 46, a father of six children, was a radical sheik at a mosque in Tripoli, in the north of Lebanon not far from the Syrian border. By the end of 2014, Amer’s ­hedonistic lifestyle had led to a divorce, one of his three sisters in Tripoli had married a Syrian, and Tarek Khayat was one of Lebanon’s most wanted men, fleeing into Syria to become a commander of Islamic State in the strategically important Raqqa region. In Raqqa, Tarek was hailed as an ISIS “prince’’, identified as Abu Abdullah al-Tarabulus. His arrival in late 2014 coincided with the city becoming the propaganda capital of Islamic State and the beginning of brutal medieval torture inflicted on Westerners.

Tarek had for years called for public killings of anyone, including Syrians, who didn’t adhere to the strict Salafist version of the Koran. For three years before ­arriving in Syria, Tarek had preached a propaganda war against the Lebanese army in Tripoli, gathering a regiment of religious followers and disaffected youth. The grim future they faced and grinding poverty culminated in a bloody protest against the Lebanese army’s perceived ­alliance with Shi’ite Hezbollah against the Sunnis. In October 2014, after Friday prayers in the Tabbeneh mosque in the poorest part of Tripoli, Tarek exhorted ­action across Tripoli and, over the next five days, 400 people were killed or injured, including scores of Lebanese army officers and about 60 of Tarek’s men.

At the time Tarek was fighting against at least one of his older brothers, Abdul Rahman, who was in the Lebanese military, as his dead father had. Abdul Rahman said Tarek used to be a “decent’’ believer in Islam, prayed on time, was nice to others and humane, but he “flipped’’ when fighting in the Tabbeneh area of Tripoli began. “He joined Islamic State when the Syrian war began and at that point I no longer considered him my brother,’’ he said.

Abdul Rahman has now moved out of his home in Tripoli, is effectively in hiding and changes his phone and address every fortnight.

Tarek allegedly recruited his Sydney-based brothers to extract revenge on the anti-Islamic State Western alliance when two of his three sons, 14-year-old Mohammed and 18-year-old Abdul Rahman (named after his uncle) were killed outside Raqqa in a battle in December 2016. Two years earlier the younger Abdul Rahman was detained by Lebanese authorities despite trying to hide as a woman in a burqa. It is unclear why he was let go to cross to Syria to rejoin his father.

“The deaths of the boys is a key moment,’’ a source told The Weekend Australian. “Amer wasn’t religious but the others were. The whole family was devastated when the boys died.’’

Secret computer communications allegedly show Khaled, who was in Sydney, and Tarek, in Raqqa, immediately spoke of revenge. This morphed into a specific plan to smuggle a bomb on board a passenger jet, targeting an Etihad flight so that the victims would include Australian, Lebanese and United Arab Emirates citizens. Explosives were allegedly sent to Khaled from Turkey and, according to the written version from Amer, the bomb was allegedly built over three months in the Surry Hills residence of a relative by Khaled and another relative. However, in his oral evidence Amer insists only Khaled and Mahmoud must have been involved, not the other relative, because they were allegedly the ones who pushed him to buy a plane ticket to Lebanon, drove him to his uncle’s place to pick up the gifts and took him to the airport.

Amer has vividly described that day at Sydney airport, checking in a big bag weighing 23kg, and then unable to fit everything in because of the weight limits. He alleged Khaled was “very nervous’’, and became agitated and angry when the check-in clerk refused a request for Amer to be able to take on board the smaller bag with the Barbie doll. Khaled allegedly snatched the meat mincer and the bag with the doll from Amer, who boarded the plane without incident. Amer, described by friends as naive and sensitive, then went to Tripoli before being arrested.

Since the alleged plot was unveiled, various intelligence agencies have claimed credit for uncovering the alleged cell’s ­activities: the Lebanese, who said they were suspicious because Amer would travel between Sydney and Beirut over the course of a decade, insisting each time he was getting married, and that they had been monitoring Tarek since he fled to Syria; the US and British who intercepted communications allegedly for a second plot from Tarek after the failure of the plane bomb, demanding his brothers unleash poison in a Sydney commuter hub; and the Israelis, who said their army intelligence units provided the information that led to the arrest of Islamic State militants who were working toward the execution of the attack.

Since the fall of Raqqa several months ago, Tarek is believed to be hiding in an Islamic State enclave along the Euphrates River.

The case against the two Australian-based cell members is ongoing, with both facing lengthy prison sentences if found guilty.

If the military court sentences the five to death, it is unlikely Australia will agree to any Lebanese extradition request because of Australia’s political opposition to capital punishment. Australia has a “non-treaty’’ extradition ­arrangement with Lebanon, signed in 2003. The last time Lebanon carried out the death penalty was in 2004.

Our humanity is killing us.

Additional reporting: Paul Maley