A Lebanese man who took several employees hostage in Beirut because a bank refused to give up his savings has come away with $30,000 and allowed his captees to leave unharmed.
Authorities say Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein, 42, entered the bank’s branch on Thursday with a shotgun and a jerrycan and threatened to set himself on fire if he was not allowed to take out his money.
Lebanon’s central bank has restricted the amount customers can withdraw from their savings amid a poor economic situation in the country.
But Hussein refused to take no for an answer, demanding the bank allow him to withdraw his money to pay his ailing father’s hospital bills while rounding up employees at gunpoint.
After hours of negotiations, he accepted an offer from the bank this afternoon to keep part of his savings, according to local media and a group of depositors who attended the talks.
The gunman’s actions sparked protests in support outside the standoff earlier today, with bystanders hailing him as a hero for standing up to the banks during the country’s financial crisis.
Hussein’s brother Atef said: “My brother is not a villain. He’s a decent man. He takes what he has from his own pocket to give to others.’
Dania Sharif, a sister of one of the hostages, even said: “He just wants his money.”
A gunman demanding frozen deposits from his bank took an unspecified number of hostages
Lebanon’s cash-strapped banks have imposed strict withdrawal limits on foreign currency investments since late 2019
An aggrieved Lebanese man (pictured) armed with a shogun is holding Beirut bank teller hostage and demanding they hand over $200,000 in his frozen account
The shooter threatened to self-ignite and fired three warning shots at the Bundesbank in Beirut
The hostage situation has prompted protests in favor of the shooter due to popular anger at the banks
A released hostage leaves the bank after holed up with other employees
“He requested access to around $200,000 he had in his bank account and when the clerk denied the request, he started yelling that his relatives were in the hospital. Then he pulled the gun,” a security source said.
Some of the bank’s customers were able to escape before he closed the doors of others, said the source, who could not say how many customers or employees were inside the branch.
Another security source said a man in his 40s “doused the whole bank in petrol, closed the front door of the bank and took staff hostage.”
The man “threatened to set himself on fire and kill everyone in the branch by pointing his gun at the bank director’s face,” the Lebanese National News Agency (NNA) said.
Earlier, at least one elderly man had been fired from the bank because of his age, and government negotiators were deployed to begin talks with the hostage-taker, the Home Office said.
Lebanon’s cash-strapped banks have imposed strict withdrawal limits on foreign currency investments since late 2019, effectively evaporating the savings of many Lebanese.
Army soldiers and security forces guard a Bundesbank branch in the Lebanese capital Beirut
The Lebanese Red Cross told Portal they had dispatched an ambulance to the scene but had yet to treat anyone
Soldiers from the Lebanese army, police officers from the country’s internal security forces and secret service agents have surrounded the area
The country is now suffering the worst economic crisis in its modern history, which has plunged three quarters of the population into poverty and the value of the Lebanese pound against the US dollar has fallen by over 90 percent.
Lebanese Army soldiers, police officers from the country’s internal security forces and intelligence agents surrounded the area amid the hostage situation.
The Lebanese Red Cross told Portal they had dispatched an ambulance to the scene but had yet to treat anyone.
A Portal witness said earlier today he saw a bearded man in a black shirt behind the bank’s front gate talking to several men in plain clothes outside.
‘Let them give me my money back!’ you heard them say it.
A crowd gathered in front of the bank, many of them chanting ‘Down with the rule of the banks!’
The man was carrying a petrol can and is holding up to ten employees hostage
Cellphone video footage showed the angry man with his shotgun demanding his money back.
In another video, behind the locked bank entrance, two police officers demanded that the man release at least one of the hostages, but he refused.
A customer at the bank, who fled the building when the situation escalated, told local media the man demanded that all his money be withdrawn to pay his father’s medical bills.
In January, a coffee shop owner who was locked in a bank branch in east Lebanon after holding bank employees hostage and threatening to kill them successfully withdrew $50,000.
Lebanon has not introduced any formal capital controls since the economic crisis began.