‘Hero’ Lebanon hostage-taker turns self in after bank drama

An armed Lebanese man takes Beirut bank staff hostage, demanding his trapped savings, August 11, 2022. (Twitter)
An armed Lebanese man takes Beirut bank staff hostage, demanding his trapped savings, August 11, 2022. (Twitter)

Bystanders hail as a hero an armed customer who held bank staff hostage for hours earlier today in Lebanon because he couldn’t access funds frozen after the country’s economic collapse.

The suspect, identified only as Bassam, was armed with a rifle and had doused the interior of the bank with gasoline, security sources say.

But after eight hours the incident has ended peacefully.

“Bassam you are a hero!” cheering bystanders chanted outside the bank.

The incident was the latest involving local banks and angry depositors unable to access savings that have been locked in Lebanese banks since the country’s economic crisis began in 2019.

Official media says the suspect turned himself in when the bank agreed to give him $30,000 out of his more than $200,000 in trapped savings.

“Employees taken hostage have also begun to leave the bank,” Lebanon’s National News Agency (NNA) says.

An AFP correspondent at the scene saw hostages and the suspect being escorted away in police cars from the Federal Bank branch where the drama unfolded, near west Beirut’s commercial center of Hamra Street.

Protesters at the scene had chanted “down with the rule of the banks,” while others took to social media to express their support for the shaggy-bearded suspect wearing shorts and flip-flops.

Local residents say the incident began at about 10:30 a.m. (0730 GMT).

The man had “a pump-action rifle and flammable material, and threatened employees to give him his savings,” a security source tells AFP, requesting anonymity.

Another security source said a man in his forties “poured gasoline all over the bank, and closed the bank’s front door, holding employees hostage.”

He demanded savings worth more than $200,000, the source says.

The man “threatened to set himself on fire and to kill everyone in the branch, pointing his weapon in the bank manager’s face,” NNA says.

He said he stormed the bank because his father “was admitted to hospital some time ago for an operation and could not pay for it,” NNA reports.

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