A gunman who held 10 people hostage inside a Lebanese bank in order to access his own savings has turned himself into police on Thursday after an seven-hour standoff. Nobody was injured during the ordeal.
Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein, a food-delivery driver, said he needed to withdraw his money to pay for his father’s medical bills.
On Thursday, the 42-year-old entered a Federal Bank branch in Beirut with a shotgun and a jerrycan of gasoline. He had around $210,000 (€204,000) deposited there, according to his family.
Inside, Hussein held seven or eight staff hostage, plus two customers, and demanded access to his savings. One security source told the AFP news agency that he also poured the gasoline “all over the bank.”
Bank withdrawals restricted
Lebanon is in the midst of a severe economic crisis — the country’s worst in modern history. Essential goods are in short supply, while a plummeting local currency has led banks to impose tight restrictions on withdrawals.
Armed man who held employees hostage at a bank in Lebanon’s capital Beirut hailed as a hero pic.twitter.com/1Mru4PzhID
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Lenders have also prevented customers from transferring money overseas.
“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 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, supporters of Hussein gathered to protest against the country’s dire economic situation. Some even called him a hero.
BREAKING: Video of hostage situation in #Lebanon at a major bank in downtown Beirut. An armed man is holding bank staff until they release his deposits, he says are $210,000: pic.twitter.com/xG9A9H3Yl8
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“My brother is not a scoundrel. He is a decent man. He takes what he has from his own pocket to give to others,” Hussein’s brother Atef said during the standoff.
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 receive $35,000 of his savings and hand himself over to police.
“Similar incidents keep happening,” said George al-Hajj, head of Lebanon’s bank employee’s union. “We need a radical solution.”
“Depositors want their money, and unfortunately their anger explodes in the face of bank employees because they cannot reach the management,” he added.