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Lebanon helped foil Australia plane bomb plot: Minister

Suspect in Sydney planned to smuggle bomb in meat grinder into UAE-bound plane
'The plane had 120 Lebanese on board in addition to other nationalities,' Lebanese Interior Minister said (Reuters)

Lebanon monitored brothers accused of plotting to blow up a flight from Sydney to Abu Dhabi for over a year in coordination with the Australian government, the Lebanese interior minister said on Monday.

Australian police this month charged Khaled Khayat and Mahmoud Khayat on two counts of planning a terrorist attack after conducting raids to disrupt what authorities described as an Islamic State (IS) group inspired plot to bomb an Etihad Airways flight.

Lebanese Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk said in a news conference that one of the men's brothers, Tareq Khayat, had moved to the IS stronghold of Raqqa in Syria and become a commander in the group more than a year ago.

Lebanon's Internal Security Force (ISF) then placed Tareq, Khaled and Mahmoud Khayat, and a fourth brother, Amer Khayat, under surveillance. Khaled, Mahmoud and Amer were all living in Australia but sometimes visited Lebanon, he said, speaking in Beirut.

Machnouk said the brothers were Lebanese.

Machnouk said that Amer Khayat had arrived in Lebanon on 15 July, the day Australian police said the plotters tried to smuggle a bomb onto a flight from Sydney to Abu Dhabi.

Australian police had earlier said that a man had tried to check in luggage without knowing that it contained a bomb, hidden in a meat grinder, that his brother had given him.

However, Machnouk said it was Amer Khayat who was to have carried out the attack and that a Lebanese internal intelligence agency had found he was "involved in the operation". He said a bomb had also been hidden in a large child's doll in the luggage.

The plot did not succeed because the luggage exceeded the airline's weight limit, Machnouk said.

But he added that if it weren’t for the Lebanese intelligence community’s cooperation with Australia, the brothers would have attempted to carry out the attack again.

Australian police had earlier said that it appeared that one of the accused had left the airport, taking the luggage with him, while his brother boarded the plane and left Australia.

Earlier this month, Australia authorities said the suspects had been acting under orders from an IS commander.

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Police also foiled a second alleged plot involving a "chemical dispersion device," designed to release highly toxic hydrogen sulphide, but this plan was in the early stages.

"Not only have we stopped the IED that was believed to go on the plane but we have also completely disrupted the intended chemical dispersion device," Australian Federal Police Deputy Commissioner Michael Phelan said on 4 August.

The IS leader sent components through international cargo to the men, then directed them on how to build a bomb, police said.

When asked whether the operation would have been successful if the luggage had not exceeded the weight limit, Machnouk said: "Probably, yes."

He added that information offered by Lebanese intelligence had "assisted in foiling a large operation aiming to blow up a plane".

"The plane had 120 Lebanese on board in addition to other nationalities," he said.

On Saturday, Lebanon's army began an operation to dislodge IS militants from a small enclave in the mountains straddling the border with Syria.