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Gunman holds up Beirut bank for his savings

August 12, 2022

A crowd of protesters gathered outside the bank to support the gunman, with some hailing him as a hero. Lebanon is grappling with a severe economic crisis — the country's worst in modern history.

Gunman Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein seen through the window of the bank. He is smoking a cigarette while talking with a law enforcement officer.
Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein said he wanted to withdraw his own savings to pay for his father's medical billsImage: Hussein Malla/AP Photo/picture alliance

A gunman who held 10 people hostage inside a Lebanese bank in order to access his own savings turned himself into police on Thursday after an seven-hour standoff. Nobody was injured during the standoff.

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 members hostage, in addition to 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.

Lenders have also prevented customers from transferring money overseas.

A crowd of anti-bank protesters standing face-to-face with police outside the bank
A crowd of anti-bank protesters gathered outside the branch to show support for the gunmanImage: Hussein Malla/AP Photo/picture alliance

"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 Dina Abou Zour, who is with the legal advocacy group the Depositors' Union and is representing the gunman and his family.

"This has led to people taking matters into their own hands."

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.

"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.''

A crowd of onlookers, as well as police and media, outside the bank
Onlookers gathered for seven hours as the gunman negotiated with policeImage: Hussam Shbaro/AA/picture alliance

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.

zc/jcg (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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