Lebanon’s interior minister said Monday that the country’s police intelligence played a major role in foiling a plot to bring down an Emirati passenger plane that was supposed to take off from Sydney bound for the United Arab Emirates’ capital, Abu Dhabi.
Nouhad Machnouk told reporters that four Lebanese-Australian brothers, including one who is in detention in Lebanon, had planned to blow up the plane with bombs hidden inside a large Barbie doll and a meat grinder. He said the bombs did not make it onto the plane because the handbag they were placed in was more than 15 pounds above the weight permitted by the airline.
Machnouk said the bombs were sent back to the would-be terrorist’s home in Australia. He said the terrorist tried to bring two explosives on the plane in case one of them did not work. The second would be detonated by one of the brothers who was supposed to be the suicide attacker. It was not immediately clear how authorities uncovered the plot.
Australian authorities said late last month that they thwarted a credible terrorist plot to down an airplane by smuggling a device on board. They have provided few details, including the precise nature of the threat or any airlines involved.
The United Arab Emirates’ national airline said it is working with Australian police in the ongoing investigation. But Etihad Airways, the smallest of three long-haul Gulf carriers that fly to Australia, refused to confirm if it had been targeted.
Earlier this month, Australian police said two men were charged with terrorism offenses in Australia in connection with an alleged plot to bring down the airplane. It was not immediately clear if they were two of the four brothers.
Four Lebanese-Australian men had been arrested by police, who also reportedly seized a meat grinder that investigators thought may be the basis of a bomb. One of the four was released later without being charged.
Machnouk said two of the brothers, Khaled and Mahmoud Khayyat, are being held in Australia, while another, Tarek, is a senior member of the Islamic State terrorist group based in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa. He added that the fourth brother, Amer, was supposed to be on board the plane, working to bring it down 20 minutes after takeoff, but was arrested in Lebanon after he arrived in mid-July from Australia.
“The operation was foiled because of the extra weight,” Machnouk said. “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.”
He said that since Tarek Khayyat moved to Raqqa and became an IS commander, Lebanese police intelligence started tracking his brothers. Machnouk said that Amer Khayyat traveled between Australia and Lebanon several times under pretexts such as coming to get engaged or get married.
Machnouk said that about 400 passengers were on the plane, including 120 Lebanese. He said the four brothers wanted to punish the UAE and Australia for being part of the U.S.-led coalition that is targeting the extremists.
“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,” Machnouk said. “Coordination should be 24 hours a day between all security agencies to stop such attacks.”