Armed man demanding savings holds Beirut bank staff hostage

The man, identified as 42 year-old Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein, entered a branch of the Federal Bank in Beirut’s busy Hamra district.

Lebanon
Lebanon

A Lebanese man armed with a shotgun broke into a Beirut bank on Thursday, holding employees and customers hostage and threatening to set himself alight with petrol unless he receives his trapped savings.

The man, identified as 42 year-old Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein, who entered a branch of the Federal Bank in Beirut’s busy Hamra district, was carrying a canister of fuel.

He fired three warning shots, an official said.

George al-Haj, head of the Bank Employees Syndicate, said that seven or eight bank employees were taken hostage along with two customers.

The gunman released one hostage, who was taken away by ambulance.

Lebanon
A man shouts inside the bank as he holds hostages at gunpoint in Beirut (Hussein Malla/AP/PA)

Local media reported that he has about 200,000 dollars (£163,600) stuck in the bank. A customer who fled the building said the gunman was demanding to withdraw 2,000 dollars (£1,600) to pay for his hospitalised father’s medical bills.

Hussein’s brother Atef al-Sheikh Hussein, standing outside the bank, said 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,” he said. “He takes what he has from his own pocket to give to others.”

Lebanese army soldiers, police officers from the country’s Internal Security Forces and intelligence agents surrounded the area.

Officers are talking to the armed man to try to reach a settlement.

Lebanon’s cash-strapped banks 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 been plunged into poverty, and the value of the Lebanese pound has declined by over 90% against the US dollar.

In January, a coffee shop owner successfully withdrew 50,000 dollars (£40,900) trapped in a bank branch in eastern Lebanon after holding bank staff hostage and threatening to kill them.

Lebanon has yet to implement formal capital controls since the onset of the economic crisis.

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