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Armed man demanding savings holds Beirut bank staff hostage

It’s believed the man who has taken those inside a bank in Lebanon hostage wants money out of his account so his father can get medical treatment.

August 11, 2022
By Kareem Chehayeb
11 August 2022

A Lebanese man armed with a shotgun broke into a Beirut bank on Thursday, holding employees hostage and threatening to set himself on fire with gasoline unless he receives his trapped savings, a security official said.

The man, identified as 42 year-old Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein, allegedly entered a branch of the Federal Bank in Beirut’s bustling Hamra district carrying a canister of gasoline and held six or seven bank employees hostage, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Some reports also say two customers are being held.

The man fired three warning shots, the official said. Local media reported that he has about $200,000 stuck in the bank.

Lebanese security forces secure the area outside a bank in Beirut, where a man armed with a shotgun broke in, holding employees hostage and threatening to set himself alight with gasoline. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Lebanon’s cash-strapped banks since late 2019 have implemented strict withdrawal limits on foreign currency assets, effectively evaporating the savings of many Lebanese.

The country is suffering from the worst economic crisis in its modern history, where three-quarters of the population have plunged into poverty, and the value of the Lebanese pound has declined by over 90 per cent against the US dollar.

Lebanese army soldiers, police officers from the country’s Internal Security Forces, and intelligence agents have surrounded the area. Officers are talking to the armed man to reach a settlement, but have thus far been unsuccessful.

Hussein released one of the hostages, who left by ambulance. Mobile phone video footage from earlier shows the disgruntled man with his shotgun, demanding his money back.

The man has so far released one hostage. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

A customer at the bank who fled the building as the situation escalated, told local media that he was demanding to withdraw 2,000 dollars to pay for his hospitalized father’s medical bills.

His brother Atef, standing outside the bank, told the Associated Press that his brother would be willing to turn himself in if the bank gave him money to help with his father’s medical bills and family expenses.

“My brother is not a scoundrel, he is a decent man,” Atef al-Sheikh Hussein said. “He takes what he has from his own pocket to give to others.”

Meanwhile, dozens of protesters gathered in the area, chanting slogans against the Lebanese government and banks, hoping that Hussein would receive his trapped savings. Some bystanders even hailed him as a hero.

“My brother is not a scoundrel, he is a decent man.”

Atef al-Sheikh Hussein, the brother of the alleged hostage-taker.

“What led us to this situation is the state’s failure to resolve this economic crisis and the banks’ and Central Bank’s actions, where people can only retrieve some of their own money as if it’s a weekly allowance,” said Dina Abou Zor, a lawyer with the legal and advocacy group the Depositors’ Union among the protesters.

“And this has led to people taking matters into their own hands.”

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