Lebanese gunman holds bank staff hostage to access his savings

A gunman who held 10 people hostage inside a Lebanese bank to gain access to his own savings turned himself into police Thursday after a seven-hour standoff. No one was injured during the ordeal.

Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein, a food delivery driver, said he had to withdraw his money to pay his father’s medical bills.

On Thursday, the 42-year-old man entered a Federal Bank branch in Beirut with a shotgun and a can of gasoline. About $210,000 (€204,000) had been deposited there, according to his family.

Inside, Hussein held seven or eight employees, plus two customers, hostage and demanded access to their savings. A security source told the AFP news agency that he also poured petrol “all over the bank”.

Restricted bank withdrawal

Lebanon is in the midst of a serious economic crisis, the country’s worst in modern history. Essential goods are in short supply, while the fall in the local currency has led banks to impose strict restrictions on withdrawals.

Gunman who held bank employees hostage in Lebanon’s capital Beirut hailed as a hero pic.twitter.com/1Mru4PzhID

— TRT World Now (@TRTWorldNow) August 12, 2022

Lenders have also prevented customers from transferring money abroad.

“What brought us to this situation is the failure of the state to solve this economic crisis and the actions of the banks and the Central Bank, where people can only get back part of their own money as if it were a subsidy weekly,” said Abou Zour, who is with the legal advocacy group the Depositors Union is representing the gunman and his family.

“This has led to people taking matters into their own hands,” he added.

Gunman hailed a ‘hero’

Outside the bank, Hussein’s supporters gathered to protest the country’s dire economic situation. Some even called him a hero.

BREAKING: Video of the hostage situation in #Lebanon at a major bank in downtown Beirut. A gunman holds bank staff until they release their deposits, which he says are $210,000: pic.twitter.com/xG9A9H3Yl8

— Joyce Karam (@Joyce_Karam) August 11, 2022

“My brother is not a scoundrel. He is a decent man. He takes what he has out of his pocket to give to others,” Hussein’s brother Atef said during the confrontation.

Hussein’s wife, Mariam Chehadi, told reporters outside the bank that her husband “did what he had to do.”

After hours of negotiations, Hussein’s lawyer said he agreed to take $35,000 from his savings and turn himself in to police.

“Similar incidents keep happening,” said George al-Hajj, head of Lebanon’s bank employees’ union. “We need a radical solution.”

“Depositors want their money and, unfortunately, their anger erupts in front of bank employees because they cannot reach management,” he added.

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