Lebanese bank hostage situation ends after partial payout

Lebanese bank hostage situation ends after partial payout
1 / 2
Members of the Lebanese army secure the area near Federal bank in Hamra, Lebanon. (AN PHOTO/FIRAS HAIDAR)
Lebanese bank hostage situation ends after partial payout
2 / 2
Crowds gathered outside the Federal Bank of Lebanon as the siege continued. (AN PHOTO/FIRAS HAIDAR)
Short Url
Updated 12 August 2022

Lebanese bank hostage situation ends after partial payout

Lebanese bank hostage situation ends after partial payout
  • Civilians gather outside bank in support of gunman
  • Bank's lawyer claims efforts under way to reach a negotiated conclusion

Bystanders praised an armed man who held bank staff hostage for hours on Thursday in Beirut because he could not access funds frozen at the bank after the country’s economic collapse.

The hostage situation in a bank in Lebanon’s capital ended after authorities agreed to grant the gunman partial access to his frozen funds in exchange for releasing all the hostages.

The man — 42-year-old Bassam Al-Sheikh Hussein — surrendered to security forces when the bank agreed to give him $30,000 out of his more than $200,000 in trapped savings.

Al-Sheikh Hussein earlier took more than eight employees hostage at Federal Bank in Hamra, Beirut.

He poured gasoline on the floor and pointed a shotgun at employees, demanding the bank let him withdraw $2,000 from his frozen accounts, in accordance with the central bank circulars to all banks in 2019.

Soldiers and officers from the Internal Security Forces surrounded the bank, which is situated on one of the busiest streets leading to the American University of Beirut and its medical center.

Negotiations began between the gunman and the bank’s management, first led by Hassan Mughnieh, the head of Lebanon’s Depositors Association.

They were later joined by the ISF’s information branch in the negotiations.

Caretaker Minister of Interior Bassam Mawlawi’s media office announced that he was following up the negotiations between the information branch and the Federal Bank from the ISF’s operations rooms.

Footage of Al-Sheikh Hussein first appeared on social media platforms, with the gunman shouting demands for his money to be released.

He told bank employees he wanted money to pay for medical bills for his father, who was receiving treatment in a hospital.

One of the bank employees filmed the scene, when the gunman could be seen carrying a gun.

The man entered the bank around 11 a.m. and asked the bank’s customers to leave while keeping the employees and the bank’s branch manager Hassan Halawi inside the building.

Two customers remained inside by accident, while one employee managed to evade capture as he was on duty outside the bank. The employee told Arab News that he was surprised to see the army and ISF surrounding the bank upon his return.

One of the customers taken hostage was released by the gunman, and handed to the Red Cross who were waiting for him, while the other insisted on staying inside “in solidarity with the armed man.”

Hasan Moghnieh, head of the depositors association, who led the negotiations with the armed depositor, told Arab News that he was negotiating with him from behind the metal bars of the bank’s closed gate.

Moghnieh said the armed man seemed calm and was assured by the security agencies that he would not be harmed.

“He is sitting in a chair, and I do not know how he dares to smoke a cigarette near the gasoline,” he added.

Moghnieh added that the gunman initially demanded to withdraw $2,000 to pay for his father’s medical bills at the Al-Zahraa hospitall, but when this was initially refused he demanded the entire $210,000 balance of his account.

On further conversation with the bank's manager, Moghnieh said the gunman was offered $10,000. However, the armed depositor rejected the offer, demanding his entire balance.

“I do not know the armed man in person. However, while negotiating with him, his threats seemed serious as he told me that he will throw the bank manager out of the window. He did not harm the detainees,” Moghnieh added.

Curious onlookers first gathered near the bank, then were joined by the concerned families of the bank employees.

They were later joined by Al-Sheikh Hussein’s family in Beirut, who began negotiating a settlement for him.

Moghnieh said: “The family wants a written undertaking that the ISF would not assault their son, and that they are ready to lower the demand and deduct a decent amount from the deposit.”

He said the bank first suggested $10,000, and when the armed man insisted on withdrawing his entire deposit, there was no more contact between the bank manager and the central management.

Other people, including customers of the bank chanting their support for the armed man: “Down with the rule of the banks,” one of the slogans of 2019’s mass protests.

Activist lawyer Haytham Azzo told Arab News: “We are following up on the events and we had warned that this would be one of the unjust banking procedures’ implications. As lawyers, we are ready to defend Al-Sheikh Hassan for free.”

Azzo said the banks had compromised national security, which was proven by “what we are seeing today.”

He added: “We called for people to be able to withdraw deposits when necessary, and the banks refused.”

The head of the Federation of Syndicates of Banks Employees in Lebanon, George Al-Hajj, earlier said they wanted the incident to end peacefully.

“We will not resort to a strike because it would be useless.”

A statement from the Depositors Association held the bank owners, government, parliament and the central bank responsible for Thursday’s developments.

The association said  “the extortion of depositors and theft of their life savings will lead to further unpredictable responses.”

The association held the judicial authorities responsible for any violence on the streets or in the face of banks, due to its determination to protect the “unjust and aggressor against the oppressed depositor.”

The tense situation in Beirut occurred after Lebanese banks resumed work on Wednesday, following a strike last Monday, in protest against the judiciary’s treatment of banks, in light of the depositors’ proceedings against them.

In a general assembly on Wednesday, the Association of Banks in Lebanon called upon the establishment of a banking court, similar to the financial markets tribunal.

The association also demanded the acceleration of adopting legislation related to a recovery plan, noting demands from the International Monetary Fund.


UK charity boss calls Iran protesters ‘soldiers of Satan’

UK charity boss calls Iran protesters ‘soldiers of Satan’
Updated 07 October 2022

UK charity boss calls Iran protesters ‘soldiers of Satan’

UK charity boss calls Iran protesters ‘soldiers of Satan’
  • Islamic Centre of England boss condemned women for removing their hijabs

LONDON: The head of a British charity with links to Iran has slammed women resisting the regime’s rule as “soldiers of Satan,” condemning women who remove their hijabs as spreading “poison.”

Seyed Moosavi, the director of the Islamic Centre of England, said in a social media speech on Tuesday: “We do not expect any good from the soldiers of Satan, but we are the lovers of Allah. We try to protect our religion, to protect the truth.”

The center, which is funded by government authorities in Tehran, hosted the broadcast by Moosavi amid demonstrations against the Iranian regime following the death of Mahsa Amini, who died under suspicious circumstances after being arrested for “inappropriately” wearing the hijab.

The center, which is based in the prosperous Maida Vale district in northwest London, was the scene of protests from anti-regime Iranians as the fight against the ayatollahs spread from Iran to the diaspora around the world.

Moosavi, who is a personal representative of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, said the bolstered laws on compulsory headdress were good and that the protestors were going “against the teaching of Islam.”

The Times of London reported that Kasra Aarabi, an Iran analyst at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change who has contributed to Arab News features, uncovered the controversial sections of the speech in a tweet: “The UK govt must take action against the Islamic Centre of England. It’s clear the views propagated at the centre are a direct threat to British values & citizens. The centre should be shut-down & Khamenei’s representatives should be expelled.”

The mosque is part of a network of groups that analysts believe have close links to the regime. Britain’s charity regulator investigated the center in January 2020 after it described the slain Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Gen. Qassem Soleimani as a “martyr” during a vigil following his killing by a US drone strike.

The Times contacted the Islamic Centre of England for comment.

The Charity Commission told the British newspaper that Moosavi’s social media speech would be included in its review of the organization’s output. 

A spokeswoman said: “We are aware of a speech given by a trustee of the Islamic Centre of England. We have an ongoing regulatory compliance case into this charity to monitor whether it has addressed an official warning previously issued. We will be assessing this speech as part of this case.”


One dead, four hurt in Iraqi Kurdistan blast: statement

One dead, four hurt in Iraqi Kurdistan blast: statement
Updated 07 October 2022

One dead, four hurt in Iraqi Kurdistan blast: statement

One dead, four hurt in Iraqi Kurdistan blast: statement
  • Two women and two children were injured when the bomb exploded on Friday in the capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region

IRBIL: One person was killed and four others, two women and two children, were injured when a bomb exploded Friday in the capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region, counter-terrorism forces said.
“An explosive device planted in a car detonated, leading to the death of the driver and the injury of... two women and two children,” a statement said, without elaborating on the victims’ identities or a motive for the attack.

Related


Mahsa Amini did not die from blows to body: Iranian coroner

Mahsa Amini did not die from blows to body: Iranian coroner
Updated 07 October 2022

Mahsa Amini did not die from blows to body: Iranian coroner

Mahsa Amini did not die from blows to body: Iranian coroner
  • Mahsa Amini died while in the custody of Iran’s morality police
  • Her death ignited more than two weeks of nationwide protests

DUBAI: An Iranian coroner’s report into the death of Mahsa Amini said she did not die due to blows to the head and limbs but from multiple organ failure caused by cerebral hypoxia, the official news agency IRNA reported on Friday.
The death of 22-year-old Amini while in the custody of Iran’s morality police has ignited more than two weeks of nationwide protests. Her father has said she suffered bruises to her legs, and has held the police responsible for her death.
The coroner’s report said her death was “not caused by blow to the head and limbs.” It did not say whether she had suffered any injuries. The report did say she fell while in custody due to “underlying diseases.”
“Due to the ineffective cardio-respiratory resuscitation in the first critical minutes, she suffered severe hypoxia and as a result brain damage.”


Iran denies security forces killed 16-year-old, says she fell off roof-Iranian media

Iran denies security forces killed 16-year-old, says she fell off roof-Iranian media
Updated 07 October 2022

Iran denies security forces killed 16-year-old, says she fell off roof-Iranian media

Iran denies security forces killed 16-year-old, says she fell off roof-Iranian media
  • Rights groups say more than 150 people have been killed
  • Women have played a prominent role, waving and burning headscarves

DUBAI: Iranian authorities have denied reports security forces killed a 16-year-old girl during protests ignited by the death of a woman in police custody, Iranian media reported on Friday, saying she committed suicide by falling off a roof.
Social media reports and rights group Amnesty International have said Sarina Esmaeilzadeh was killed by security forces when she was struck with batons on the head during protests over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in morality police custody.
Authorities earlier this week gave a similar cause of death — falling off a roof — for 17-year-old Nika Shakarami, who activists say was killed in Tehran while demonstrating over Amini’s death.
Rights groups say more than 150 people have been killed, hundreds have been injured and thousands arrested in a crackdown on nationwide protests marking the biggest challenge to Iran’s clerical leadership in years.
Women have played a prominent role, waving and burning headscarves. High school girls have also taken part.
The chief justice of Alborz province where Esmaeilzadeh died said a preliminary investigation showed her death was caused by suicide from a fall from the roof of a five-story building, the semi-official ISNA news agency said.
Chief justice Hossein Fazeli Herikandi said claims in opposition media about her death were “lies.” “Based on her mother’s account, Esmaeilzadeh had a history of suicide attempts,” he said. Police received a report of her death on Sept. 24, he said.
Reuters could not reach her family for comment.
Amnesty International, in a Sept. 30 report, said she was one of at least 52 people killed by security forces between Sept. 19 and Sept. 25, saying Esmaeilzadeh “died after being severely beaten in the head with batons.”
A video showing Esmaeilzadeh smiling and listening to music has been viewed around 147,000 times on the widely-followed 1500tasvir Twitter account.
Amini was arrested on Sept. 13 in Tehran for “inappropriate attire.” The authorities have said she suffered a heart attack after being taken to a station to be “educated.”
Her family have denied she had any heart problems. Her father has said she had bruises on her legs, and holds police responsible for her death.
The government has ordered an investigation.
Earlier this week, state media said a judicial case had been opened into Shakarami’s death, citing officials claiming it had nothing to do with the unrest, and that she had fallen off a roof and her body contained no bullet wounds. Activists have said she was killed in Tehran while demonstrating.


Lebanon inspecting new suspected cases of cholera

Lebanon inspecting new suspected cases of cholera
Updated 07 October 2022

Lebanon inspecting new suspected cases of cholera

Lebanon inspecting new suspected cases of cholera
  • News comes almost a month after an outbreak of the illness in neighboring war-torn Syria
  • A cholera infection is caused by consuming food or water infected with the Vibrio cholerae bacteria

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s health minister said on Friday that authorities are inspecting suspected cases of cholera, less than a day after the cash-strapped country confirmed its first case of the illness since 1993.
The news came almost a month after an outbreak of the illness in neighboring war-torn Syria.
Firas Abiad, Lebanon’s caretaker health minister, said in a press conference that the first case was a middle-aged Syrian refugee man living in the impoverished northern province of Akkar, and confirmed a second case in the area.
“There are several other suspected cases,” Abiad said. “Cholera is an illness that is easily transmissible.”
The developments take place as Lebanon's economy continues to spiral, plunging three-quarters of its population into poverty. Rampant power cuts, water shortages, and skyrocketing inflation have deteriorated living conditions for millions.
The Lebanese health minister added that the authorities have been working with the United Nations Children’s Fund and World Health Organization for weeks to ensure the cash-strapped country can respond to a possible outbreak, and expand testing capacities at hospitals and labs.
“We're making sure that there is safe water and a good sewage system,” Abiad said.
According to the WHO, a cholera infection is caused by consuming food or water infected with the Vibrio cholerae bacteria, and while most cases are mild to moderate, not treating the illness could lead to death.
About 1 million Syrian refugees who fled their country’s civil war reside in neighboring Lebanon. Most live in extreme poverty in tented settlements or in overcrowded apartments.
Poverty has also deepened for many Lebanese, with many families often rationing water, unable to afford private water tanks for drinking and domestic use.
The health minister said Lebanon has secured the necessary equipment and medicines to treat patients.
Richard Brennan, Regional Emergency Director of the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region told The Associated Press Thursday that the organization has also been coordinating with other countries neighboring Syria to help respond to a possible outbreak.
However, he said vaccines are in short supply due to global demand.
The UN and Syria’s Health Ministry have said the source of the outbreak is likely linked to people drinking unsafe water from the Euphrates River and using contaminated water to irrigate crops, resulting in food contamination.
Syria’s health services have suffered heavily from its years-long war, while much of the country is short on supplies to sanitize water.
Syrian health officials as of Wednesday documented at least 594 cases of cholera and 39 deaths. Meanwhile, in the rebel-held northwest of the country, health authorities documented 605 suspected cases, dozens of confirmed cases, and at least one death.