Beirut bank gunman still behind bars as family takes to the street in protest

A man shouts as he protests against banks outside a bank where another armed man holds hostages in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022. (AP)
A man shouts as he protests against banks outside a bank where another armed man holds hostages in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 12 August 2022

Beirut bank gunman still behind bars as family takes to the street in protest

Beirut bank gunman still behind bars as family takes to the street in protest
  • Bassam Al-Sheikh Hussein was arrested on Thursday after holding employees hostage
  • After surrendering himself he was told he would not be jailed

BEIRUT: The Lebanese man who held eight bank employees hostage at gunpoint while demanding the release of his frozen savings remained behind bars on Friday pending further inquiries.

Bassam Al-Sheikh Hussein was arrested after voluntarily leaving the Federal Bank branch in Beirut on Thursday evening following a seven-hour standoff.

On Friday, members of his family blocked Al-Ouzai Road in Beirut in protest at his continued detention saying it was in breach of an agreement made the night before.




An armed man Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein, 42, speaks with one of his hostages inside a bank, in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022. (AP)

Al-Sheikh Hussein, 42, surrendered after being told his family would be given $35,000 of his money and being promised he would be questioned and then set free. Inside the bank he had been armed with a pump-action shotgun and gasoline, which at on point he said he would use to set himself alight.

Many people in the crowd that had gathered outside the bank during the siege applauded as he was led away. Lebanon’s central bank imposed a freeze on all bank deposits in 2019.

Despite the promise that he would be allowed to walk free, after leaving the bank Al-Sheikh Hussein was arrested and detained on the orders of the Lebanese judiciary.

Lawyer Haytham Ezzo told Arab News that Al-Sheikh Hussein was detained by the Information Branch of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces and denied access to a lawyer despite it being his legal right to have one present.

“Even if no one sues him, there’s the public right,” he said. “Either the investigating judge asks for his release after he’s referred to him by the Information Branch, or asks for his arrest.”

Ezzo said it was possible that Al-Sheikh Hussein had been arrested for endangering state security or threatening to kill or kidnap.

As for the money paid to the family, that could not be reclaimed by the bank as “it doesn’t constitute a criminal tool. It is the arrested depositor’s right and property,” he added.

Hassan Mughnieh, the head of Lebanon’s Depositors Association, who was in charge of the negotiations between Al-Sheikh Hussein and the bank, told Arab News that “neither the employees who were held hostage nor the Federal Bank sued him.”

But the gunman would remain behind bars until next week at the earliest, he said.

“Things will become clear on Tuesday, as it’s the weekend and judges do not work on Monday in the Justice Palaces.”

He added: “As depositors, we will organize a protest in front of Beirut’s Justice Palace on Tuesday and in front of the Directorate General of the Internal Security Forces. We don’t have a problem with Al-Sheikh Hassan’s arrest, but justice says the bank owner should also be arrested.”

Mughnieh said he had received many calls from other disgruntled bank depositors saying they wanted to act as Al-Sheikh Hassan had done.

Lebanese bank customers have had their deposits frozen since the start of the country’s economic crisis and slump of its currency.

Castro Abdallah, head of the National Federation of Trade and Employees Unions, said on Friday that “the affected people should stand together in order to recover the stolen public and depositors’ money.”

He called on unions to protest next Thursday in the commercial street of Hamra in Beirut.

Lebanon’s caretaker deputy Prime Minister Saade Chami warned that Lebanon was standing at a crossroads.

“We need to acknowledge the reality and the crises we are facing and confront them. This means that we should take the needed measures and carry out the critical and necessary reforms that put the country on the right path.”

He added that the financial and monetary policies adopted in recent years in a bid to buy time had failed and that time was now running out.

“No one will rescue us if we don’t try to rescue ourselves,” he said. “Receiving help from the little friends we have left in the world will not achieve the desired outcome.”


Iraq PM condemns Iran attacks on Kurdistan, calls on forces to maintain security

Iraq PM condemns Iran attacks on Kurdistan, calls on forces to maintain security
Updated 19 sec ago

Iraq PM condemns Iran attacks on Kurdistan, calls on forces to maintain security

Iraq PM condemns Iran attacks on Kurdistan, calls on forces to maintain security

LONDON: Iraqi ministers on Saturday condemned an Iranian drone bombing campaign targeting bases of an Iranian-Kurdish opposition group in northern Iraq on Wednesday, which killed at least nine people and wounded 32 others.

The comments came during an extraordinary ministerial council meeting for national security, which was chaired by Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, and attended by the defense and interior ministers, as well as a number of security leaders.

“The attendees affirmed their rejection of the Iranian bombing, which caused great damage, stressing their rejection of attempts to use Iraq as an arena for settling scores,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement.

“The meeting recommended that the government and the responsible authorities continue to take all necessary measures to stop these behaviors.”

The meeting also recommended that the country addresses “all that contradicts the principle of good neighborliness which Iraq believes in,” pursues relations with its neighbors, and deal with security challenges through diplomatic channels and joint security cooperation.

Al-Kadhimi called on “security committees in the governorates to bear their full responsibility for maintaining security, and not to allow chaos to terrify citizens, and cause security disturbances that negatively affect the activities and daily life of the people there.”

The Iraqi leader stressed the need for all political forces to confront their national responsibility, adopt a national dialogue to resolve crises, strengthen the rule of law, address the issue of uncontrolled weapons, and eliminate armed militias that threaten people’s security and civil peace.

He also praised “the peaceful demonstrators who were keen to advance their legitimate demands for a country free of corruption and reform, and to preserve freedom of expression from any extraneous practices that harm its constitutional and human essence.”

Al-Kadhimi was referring to demonstrations in the capital, Baghdad, to mark the anniversary of anti-government unrest that erupted in 2019.


US citizen allowed to leave Iranian prison for a week -lawyer

US citizen allowed to leave Iranian prison for a week -lawyer
Updated 1 min 31 sec ago

US citizen allowed to leave Iranian prison for a week -lawyer

US citizen allowed to leave Iranian prison for a week -lawyer
  • UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said Baquer Namazi is being allowed to leave Iran for medical treatment
  • It was unclear if Siamak's furlough might be a step toward his full release

DUBAI: Siamak Namazi, an Iranian-American businessman who has been imprisoned in Iran for nearly seven years, has been allowed out of Tehran’s Evin prison on a one-week, renewable furlough, his lawyer Jared Genser told Reuters on Saturday.
United Nations spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said in a statement that Siamak’s father, Baquer Namazi, is being allowed to leave Iran for medical treatment.
Baquer Namazi was convicted in Iran of “collaboration with a hostile government” in 2016 and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Iranian authorities released him on medical grounds in 2018 and closed his case in 2020, commuting his sentence to time served but effectively barring him from leaving the country.
His son, Siamak, was convicted of the same charge and has been held in Evin prison since 2015. The US government has described the charges against both as baseless.
It was unclear if Siamak’s furlough might be a step toward his full release, nor whether it signals the possible furlough or release of other US citizens detained in Iran.
“I am thrilled for the Namazi family that for the first time in seven years Siamak Namazi is sleeping at home with his family,” Genser, who represents the family, told Reuters, saying Siamak was staying with his parents at their Tehran apartment.
“This is a critical first step but of course we will not rest until the entire family is able to return to the United States and their long nightmare is finally over,” Genser added.


Mother’s ‘Village of Hope’ paves way for disabled rights in Egypt

Mother’s ‘Village of Hope’ paves way for disabled rights in Egypt
Updated 13 min 14 sec ago

Mother’s ‘Village of Hope’ paves way for disabled rights in Egypt

Mother’s ‘Village of Hope’ paves way for disabled rights in Egypt
  • The Village of Hope is an association for the development and social rehabilitation of the disabled

CAIRO: An Egyptian mother of a disabled child who established a village in Alexandria Governorate to support her son and people with disabilities is reaping the benefits of her noble project.

Nada Thabet, a member of parliament, who set up Al-Amal, or the “Village of Hope,” told Arab News: “I gave birth to a baby 42 years ago, and after a few months, I noticed that he does not see me and does not move like normal children. When I traveled abroad with him, the doctors told me that he is disabled and will need special training and treatment.”

Thabet tried to help her son integrate into society by homeschooling him, ignoring antiquated, insensitive advice from doctors who advised her to treat the boy like a “pet cat or dog.”

At the time, Thabet struggled to find a school for children with disabilities in 1980s Egypt. “I and several other mothers tried to establish one class in Alexandria at St. Mark’s College School to teach people with disabilities.

“We started with three children, then the number grew with the increasing awareness of mothers and fathers about the necessity to educate the disabled.”

For the Village of Hope, Thabet chose the location in the Burj Al-Arab area, on the outskirts of Alexandria.

“My family owns a large plot of land in that area, but the place was initially a desert, so we greened it with plants and paved a road to reach the site. The main idea behind the village was to create a place to train the disabled in handicrafts. When we started promoting the village, only five children joined us,” she said.

“First, we set up a bakery, then we experimented with agriculture, which turned out to be a great success because children learned from nature, then the number of children increased, and it has been constantly increasing ever since,” Thabet added.

The village also has a carpentry workshop. It organizes seminars for disabled children and their families to increase awareness and help them deal with their children’s disabilities.

“Now, more than 40 children are enrolled in the village, some of whom spend the day and then go home with their families, while others reside in the village and go to their families only for two days because of long distances,” said Thabet.

The Village of Hope is an association for the development and social rehabilitation of the disabled. It also encourages NGOs to support its cause and spread the culture of volunteerism in a way that guarantees the rights of the disabled.

Thabet devoted herself to public and voluntary work in Egypt 15 years ago. “All the children and people suffering from disabilities who joined the association have seen a great improvement that makes us feel that we have succeeded, and contributed to their rehabilitation and integration in Egyptian society. We also help them launch their products in the market," she said.


Iran students protest, global demonstrations over crackdown since Mahsa Amini death

Iran students protest, global demonstrations over crackdown since Mahsa Amini death
Updated 16 min 18 sec ago

Iran students protest, global demonstrations over crackdown since Mahsa Amini death

Iran students protest, global demonstrations over crackdown since Mahsa Amini death
  • Iranians based abroad and their supporters gathered in cities around the world in solidarity
  • “Woman, life, freedom” and “Death to the dictator” chanted in the streets

PARIS: Students demonstrated in Tehran and other Iranian cities Saturday against an ongoing crackdown on dissent over the death last month of Mahsa Amini in the custody of the Islamic republic’s notorious morality police.

Iranians based abroad and their supporters gathered in cities around the world in solidarity.

Cities including Auckland, London, Melbourne, New York, Paris, Rome, Seoul, Stockholm, Sydney and Zurich all witnessed anti-regime demonstrations.

A wave of street violence has rocked Iran since Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, died after her arrest by the morality police for allegedly failing to observe the Islamic republic’s strict dress code for women.

Protests have been held nightly for more than two weeks, despite a bloody crackdown that a rights group says has claimed more than 80 lives.

“Woman, life, freedom” and “Death to the dictator,” they chanted in the streets of Amini’s hometown of Saqqez, in Kurdistan province.
On Saturday, riot police massed at major road junctions across the capital, as students demonstrated in Enghelab (Revolution) Square near Tehran University in the city center to press for the release of arrested students.
Police clashed with the protesters who were chanting slogans and arrested some of them, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.
Video footage shared by the Oslo-based Iran Human Rights group also showed student protests in other cities, including second city Mashhad and Karaj, west of the capital.
The protesters were seen chanting and women having removed their headscarves.
Demonstrations of support were called in 159 cities across the globe — from Auckland to New York and Seoul to Zurich, the Iranians for Justice and Human Rights group said.
In Rome, at a rally of about 1,000 people, a half dozen women cut their hair in solidarity.
But in Beirut, the head of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah movement, Hasan Nasrallah, described Amini’s death as a “vague incident” that was being used against Tehran.
“This vague incident was exploited and people took to the streets,” Nasrallah said, adding that the protests do not reflect the true will of the Iranian people.
The protests flared in Iran on September 16, when Amini was pronounced dead three days after falling into a coma following her arrest.
Iran Human Rights group says at least 83 people have been killed in the crackdown. Amnesty International says it has confirmed 52 fatalities, while Iran’s Fars agency has put the death toll at “around 60.”
It is the bloodiest unrest in Iran since a ruthless crackdown on demonstrations in November 2019 over a sudden hike in fuel prices that killed at least 304 people, according to Amnesty.
Mir Hossein Mousavi, a former prime minister who has been under house arrest for more than a decade, urged security forces to halt the violence, in a message on the Instagram account of opposition group Kaleme.
“I would like to remind all the armed forces of their pledge to protect our land, Iran, and the lives, property, and rights of the people,” he said.
Iran’s intelligence ministry said Friday that “nine foreign nationals,” including from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland, were arrested “at or behind the scene of riots,” along with 256 members of outlawed opposition groups.
Unrest also erupted on Friday in Iran’s southeastern Sistan-Baluchestan province, which borders Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said two of its colonels were killed, bringing the official toll to 20 dead during clashes in the province where three police stations were attacked.
“Several chain stores were looted and set on fire, and a number of banks and government centers were also damaged,” said Sistan-Baluchestan governor Hossein Khiabani.
Poverty-stricken Sistan-Baluchestan is a flashpoint for clashes with drug smuggling gangs, as well as rebels from the Baluchi minority and Sunni Muslim extremist groups.
Iran has blamed outside forces for the nationwide protests.
On Wednesday, the Revolutionary Guards launched cross-border missile and drone strikes that killed 14 people in autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, accusing rebel groups in the region of fueling the unrest.
The US said one of its citizens was killed in the strikes.
On Saturday, Iranian forces mounted a new bombardment of Kurdish rebel bases over the border that caused damage but no casualties, a rebel official told AFP.


Yemeni government agrees to extend UN-brokered truce for two months

Yemeni government agrees to extend UN-brokered truce for two months
Updated 39 min 33 sec ago

Yemeni government agrees to extend UN-brokered truce for two months

Yemeni government agrees to extend UN-brokered truce for two months
  • “The government does not object to the renewal, but it does have some reservations,” the Yemeni government official told Arab News, preferring anonymity

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s internationally recognized government has agreed to extend the UN-brokered truce for two months, as the global community makes last-ditch efforts to persuade the Iran-backed Houthis to do the same.

An official familiar with behind-the-scenes negotiations said that the Yemeni government is willing to extend the ceasefire by two months and discuss thorny issues, such as opening Taiz’s roads and paying public employees in areas controlled by the Houthis, later.

“The government does not object to the renewal, but it does have some reservations,” the Yemeni government official told Arab News, preferring anonymity. “As such, we would prefer to renew it under the same terms as before and to engage in discussions about the new UN proposal to expand it.”

The UN-mediated ceasefire, which came into force on April 2 and was twice extended for two months, ends on Sunday. The Houthis said last week that they would extend the truce only if the Yemeni government paid public servants in their areas.

UN Yemen envoy Hans Grundberg gave the Yemeni government and the Houthis a fresh draft of a new proposal in an effort to convince them to extend the ceasefire.

It suggested extending the truce for six months; adding Doha, Muscat and Mumbai flights to the Sanaa airport flight schedule; the Houthis initially opening minor roads in Taiz; and the militia paying public employees in areas under their control using fuel sales, with any shortfall being covered by the Yemeni government.

The proposal was met with reservations on both sides. The Houthis demanded that the Yemeni government fully pay public employees in their territory, and also lift the “blockade” of Hodeidah port and Sanaa airport.

The government demanded the Houthis open at least one major road in Taiz, and pay all government employees in Sanaa and other militia-controlled areas.

UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly on Saturday urged the Houthis not to deprive Yemenis of another chance at peace, accusing the militia of attempting to jeopardize efforts to end the fighting by refusing to comply with the UN Yemen envoy’s bid to extend the truce.

“We call on the Houthis to engage constructively with UN special envoy Hans Grundberg’s efforts to broker an extension to the truce, so that serious dialogue about achieving a peaceful, inclusive and Yemeni-led future can take place,” Cleverly said in a statement.

“Yemen must not return to conflict. The truce expires tomorrow, but the Houthis continue to endanger the talks and deny Yemenis a peaceful future.”

On Friday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Yemen’s government and the Houthis to accept his envoy’s proposal to halt hostilities in the country for longer periods and to engage in talks to reach a long-term peace settlement.

“I strongly urge the Yemeni parties not only to renew but also to extend the truce’s terms and duration, in line with the proposal presented to them by my special envoy, Hans Grundberg,” Guterres said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who spoke with Grundberg on Friday to express his support for the envoy’s efforts to renew the truce, criticized the Houthis for breaking the ceasefire, and thanked the Yemeni government for agreeing to pay public employees and facilitate the flow of fuel across Yemen.

“We are ready to support Yemen’s peace and recovery if only the Yemeni parties choose peace and extend the truce,” the US State Department said in a statement.

International aid organizations working in Yemen, such as Save the Children, have added their voices to calls for an extension of the ceasefire, citing a 60 percent decrease in the number of displaced families from 4,950 between January and March to 2,052 between April and June.

“Children in Yemen deserve a safe home and lasting peace. It’s time to #StopTheWarOnChildren,” Save the Children tweeted on Saturday.