BEIRUT: An armed man demanding deposits frozen by his bank took an unspecified number of hostages on Thursday at the Federal Bank of Lebanon, a security source said and a Reuters witness said.
Lebanese banks have limited withdrawals of hard currency for most depositors during the country’s three-year financial meltdown, which has left more than three-quarters of the population poor.
The man entered the Federal Bank of Lebanon branch in the Hamra neighborhood in west Beirut just before noon on Thursday with a firearm, the security source told Reuters.
Some customers in the bank managed to flee before he shut the doors on the rest, said the source, who was not able to specify how many clients or employees were in the branch.
Two shots were subsequently fired, according to Lebanese media station Al-Jadeed.
A Reuters witness could see a bearded man in a black shirt behind the gated entrance to the bank speaking to several men in plainclothes on the outside.
“Let them give me back my money!” he was heard telling them.
The following is a live update of the events as they unfold. All timings are GMT:
10:47 am - Al-Akhbar tweets footage of demonstrators outside the bank chanting "Down with the banks ruling" of Lebanon.
10:29 am – Al Arabiya news channel reports that eight hostages are being held inside the bank.
10:20am – The face of the gunman (Reuters)
10:11 am – Video of the gunman appears to show his hostages pleading with him.
09:30am - Al Jadeed Television confirms that Basem Al-Sheikh Hussein, 42, has taken hostages in a branch of Federal Bank Lebanon in Hamrah Street in Beirut, demanding his money back.
He has $210,000 and his brother has $500,000 in accounts in the bank. Direct negotiations are ongoing between the families of the hostages and Hussein.