Armed Man Takes Hostages in Beirut Bank Demanding Access to Savings

A police line outside the Beirut bank

An armed man has received a $30,000 payout after holding hostages in a central Beirut bank and demanding access to his own money.

Armed a rifle and threatening to douse himself with petrol, Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein entered the Federal Bank branch at around midday and demanded access to part of his frozen savings of $210,000 in order to pay his father’s medical bills.

Like the majority of the country, the hostage taker had found himself without access to his own money as banks, crippled by an economic crisis in the country, reduced daily withdrawal limits for dollars – the preferred currency for most with the Lebanese pound in freefall – to levels criticized as being insufficient to meet basic living costs.

The measures have naturally proved extremely unpopular, and the desperate measures taken by the man have been praised by many on social media who identify with his act of defiance.

An estimated 80% of Lebanon’s population as now living in poverty as a result of capital controls, and the measures have been the subject of numerous protests, some of which have turned violent.

Having originally rejected a $10,000 offer from the bank to bring the siege to an end, the gunman accepted a second offer of $30,000. Shortly after allowing his hostages to eat food delivered by a local restaurant, the man surrendered himself to police.

The bank siege was the second such incident this year, with another customer angry at being unable to access his cash having doused customers in a regional bank with fuel in January, demanding his savings. This man was also successful in receiving payment from the bank.