According to a security source and Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency, an armed man took staff members and clients at gunpoint hostage at a bank on busy Hamra Street in Beirut on Thursday and demanded the release of his frozen cash.
Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein, 42, allegedly entered the Federal Bank in Beirut’s busy brandishing a shotgun and a canister of gasoline or petrol and threatening to light himself on fire if he wasn’t permitted to withdraw his money.
The individual gave himself up to security forces after a several-hour confrontation in exchange for a piece of his bank account. Due to professional standards, the source spoke only under the condition of anonymity, said the security source.
According to NNA, the terms of the man’s surrender included receiving $30,000 of the $210,000 in his frozen bank account.
The armed man reportedly threatened to destroy the bank and kill everyone inside and claimed he needed the money to pay for his father’s procedure. A video posted on social media showed the man brandishing an assault gun.
He was heard screaming in the video taken inside the bank, “Give me back my money!” “I don’t have much time.”
Hussein was encircled by army soldiers, police officers from the nation’s Internal Security Forces, and intelligence agents as authorities tried to negotiate with him for several hours.
The Associated Press was informed by Hussein’s brother, who was also present at the scene, that the shooter wanted to withdraw money to cover his father’s medical bills and other family obligations.
The banking sector in Lebanon has implemented discretionary capital controls since the commencement of the country’s financial crisis in October 2019, drastically restricting people’s access to their life savings.
During the standoff, a crowd in support of Hussein had collected outside the bank, with several of them raising the slogan, “Down with the rule of the banks!”
Earlier on Thursday, Hassan Mughniyeh, the head of the Lebanese Depositors’ Association, attempted to negotiate the release of the hostages by entering the bank, but the guy fired two unintended rounds, according to NNA.
According to Mughniyeh, “Lebanon’s political leadership and banking institutions are to blame for this scenario.” “If problems aren’t solved right away, the situation will get worse.”
The incident was captured on a mobile phone, and the man was seen yelling for his cash. Two police officers request the man to release at least one of the hostages in a different video, but he refused.
According to former economy minister Raed Khoury, the restrictions on bank withdrawals in Lebanon are “very annoying.” “The individual who is requesting his money is entirely justified; it is his savings, and he has the right to take his money. But rather than targeting the banks and bank staff, his rage and dissatisfaction should be towards government.”
The event on Thursday was the most recent between local banks and infuriated depositors unable to access money held in Lebanese banks ever since the nation’s economic crisis started in 2019. The last time such an incident occurred was in January when a 37-year-old coffee shop owner successfully took $50,000 of his own money from an eastern Lebanon bank branch after holding bank employee’s hostage.
More than 75 percent of the population now lives in poverty as a result of Lebanon’s economic crisis, which began in 2019 and caused the local currency to lose nearly 90% of its value as of October 2019.