Hostage stand-off at Beirut bank ends with gunman’s arrest

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A hostage stand-off in which a gunman demanded a Beirut bank let him withdraw his trapped savings has ended with the man’s surrender and no injuries.

Authorities say 42-year-old Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein entered a branch of the Federal bank with a shotgun and a canister of petrol and threatened to set himself on fire unless he was allowed to take out his money.

He took up to 10 bank workers and customers hostage and fired three warning shots, an official said.

After hours of negotiations, he accepted an offer from the bank to receive part of his savings, according to local media and a depositors’ group that took part in the talks.

Lebanon
Lebanese security forces secured the area outside the bank in Beirut before the gunman surrendered (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Dozens of protesters gathered in the city’s busy Hamra district during the stand-off, chanting slogans against the Lebanese government and banks, hoping that the gunman would receive his savings. Some bystanders hailed him as a hero.

Hussein had 210,000 dollars (£171,000) trapped in the bank and been struggling to withdraw his money to pay his father’s medical bills, said Hassan Moghnieh, who as head of the advocacy group Association of Depositors in Lebanon took part in the negotiations.

The country’s cash-strapped banks have slapped strict limits on withdrawals of foreign currency assets, tying up the savings of millions of people.

Lebanon is suffering from the worst economic crisis in its modern history. Three-quarters of the population has been plunged into poverty, and the Lebanese pound has declined in value by more than 90% against the US dollar.

“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 Zor, a lawyer with the advocacy group Depositors’ Union who was among the protesters. “And this has led to people taking matters into their own hands.”

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