BEIRUT, LEBANON: A gunman has entered a Beirut bank in Al Hamra Street demanding his savings are released so he can pay his father’s hospital bills.
The man, named as Bassam Sheikh Hussein, 42, says his money has been withheld as part of measures taken by the Banque du Liban (Federal Bank of Lebanon) since 2019.
It is understood that the man took eight hostages, six employees and two customers.
On entering the bank, witnesses said the man poured gasoline into the bank hall on Thursday morning and pulled out a gun threatening to burn himself and kill those in the bank unless he was given the $2,000 to pay for his father’s hospital costs.
The security services have cordoned off the area where crowds have gathered - some shouting their support for the gunman with chants of “give him his money back,” and even calling him a “hero.”
Later in the afternoon people became increasingly impatient, and warned the Lebanese minister of interior that any attempt to enter the bank by force to bring the gunman out would be met with a violent response by civilians at the scene.
Customers who were inside the bank when the gunman stormed it said, he had had an account with the bank, containing $210,000 and was demanding they release $2,000.
It is understood the gunman told customers to leave the bank and kept the employees inside.
Shortly after the siege began the gunman was seen leading an elderly man from the branch, before letting him go.
Hasan Moghnieh, head of the depositors’ association, told Arab News that the gunman had originally demanded $2,000 to pay for his father’s hospital bill.
But when the bank refused, he demanded the whole $210,000 balance.
“The bank brought $10,000 as a settlement to give it to the gunman, but he refused,” Moghnieh added.
“Now further negotiations are underway.”
He said he did not know the gunman personally, but added: “By negotiating with him, it became clear that he is serious about his threats and he is ready for ‘collective damage.’"
Outside pople gathered in the area in solidarity with the gunman chanting: “Down with the rule of the bank.”
They told media at the scene that the siege was an inevitable outcome of government’s actions that had ultimately led to millions of people’s finances being frozen by the banks.
And they warned that their could be repeats of the siege in the future unless something was done - later warning that any attempts to the end the siege by force by security would be met with civil unrest.
A number of customers who had gathered in the area shouted to the media that they supported the actions of the gunman, stressing that they too wanted their money.
Mughniyeh said the gunman “fired two shots inside the bank,” adding that the man was with his brother who also holds money in the branch.
He said the gunman justified the siege as the only way he could get his money.”
Some of the gunman’s supporters said he might be protected under Lebanese laws permitting citizens to protect themselves, their possessions and money by force.