A six-hour bank siege ended with an armed man being allowed to walk out of the bank with $30,000 and an unlikely hero status despite holding six people at gunpoint.
Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein 42, marched into a Beirut bank on Thursday afternoon, brandishing a shotgun and a can of gasoline, threatening to light himself on fire if he was not allowed to withdraw $200,000 that he had stored in the bank. When his demand was refused, he shouted at employees that he needed the money to pay for his family's hospital bills.
Lebanese people have been effectively locked out of their own bank accounts since the country's financial crisis began in 2019, with banks only allowing people to withdraw small amounts of cash – hardly enough to meet basic needs.
During the initial panic, most of the customers in the branch were able to escape before Hussein shut the doors, trapping one customer and five bank employees inside.
Hussein screamed “they’re all liars,” as he walked around the foyer of the Federal Bank Branch in Beirut.
According to local media, two shots were fired during the hold-up, but no one was injured.
Hussein's father is reported to be in hospital and needs $50,000 to cover his treatment. Hussein also needs money to pay for his son’s medical bills.
In January, a similar siege played out, with a man in Bekaa Valley holding up a bank to withdraw his own money.
By the evening, Hussein agreed to accept $30,000, having rejected an offer of $10,000. After allowing his captives to be fed, he walked out of the bank and surrendered to police. It is unclear whether he will be charged.
Video of the hostage situation circulated widely on social media, and crowds gathered outside the bank in solidarity with the gunman, chanting: "Down with the rule of the banks!" Eighty percent of Lebanese people are considered to be impoverished.
Lebanon is currently going through what the World Bank describes as a “deliberate depression orchestrated by the country’s elite” that has led to one of the world’s most severe economic crises since 1850.
The Lebanese Depositors Union called for a protest in solidarity with the hostage-taker.
“We support the right of every depositor to get his deposit,” Hady Jaafar of the Lebanese Depositors Union told VICE World News. “We encourage depositors to go to courts, but when some courts don't apply justice for depositors and rule against the law, then there is a principle: self-fulfillment of the right.”