A hostage crisis in a bank in Beirut ended on Thursday after the authorities agreed to grant a local gunman partial access to his frozen funds in exchange for releasing all six hostages, Reuters has reported.
Bassam Al-Sheikh Hussein, 42, entered the Federal Bank of Lebanon branch in the Hamra neighbourhood of the capital with a firearm just before noon on Thursday, explained a security source. “He demanded access to around $200,000 that he had in his bank account. When the employee refused the request, he began screaming that his relatives were in hospital. Then he pulled out the gun.”
According to Hussein’s sister and the head of a local banking association, the crisis ended after six hours when the bank agreed to give the man around $30,000. It was not immediately clear if the terms of the settlement included any criminal charges against him.
Some bank customers managed to flee before he shut the doors on the rest, said the source. At least one elderly man was released from the bank because of his age and government negotiators were deployed to begin talks with the hostage taker, said the interior ministry.
The remaining six hostages were one customer and five bank employees, including bank manager Hassan Halawi, who spoke to Reuters by phone from within the branch. “I’m in my office. He [the hostage taker] gets agitated, then calms down, then gets agitated again.”
Lebanon’s Al-Jadeed said that at least two shots were fired. The Lebanese Red Cross told the media that it had deployed an ambulance to the scene.
During the hostage crisis, a crowd gathered outside the bank. Many of the people chanted, “Down with the rule of the banks!”
Since Lebanon’s financial crisis took hold in 2019, Lebanese banks have limited withdrawals of hard currency for most depositors during what has been a three-year financial meltdown. This has left more than three-quarters of the population struggling.
Banks say that they make exceptions for humanitarian cases, including hospital care. However, depositors and their representatives told Reuters that such exemptions are rare.