BEIRUT (AP) – A gunman demanding a Beirut bank let him withdraw his trapped savings to pay his father’s medical bills took up to 10 people hostage in a seven-hour standoff on Thursday before surrendering in exchange for what a family lawyer said was USD35,000 of his money.
Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein, a 42-year-old food-delivery driver, was promptly arrested and taken away by police as he walked out of the bank. No one was injured.
Hussein’s wife, Mariam Chehadi, who was standing outside, told reporters that her husband “did what he had to do”.
The hostage drama in the city’s bustling Hamra district was the latest painful episode in Lebanon’s economic free-fall, now in its third year. The country’s cash-strapped banks since 2019 have slapped strict limits on withdrawals of foreign currency assets, tying up the savings of millions of people.
Dozens of protesters gathered outside during the standoff, chanting slogans against the Lebanese government and banks and hoping that the gunman would get his money. Some bystanders hailed him as a hero.
Authorities said Hussein entered the bank with a shotgun and a canister of gasoline, fired three warning shots and locked himself in with his hostages, threatening to set himself on fire unless he was allowed to take out his money.
Hussein had USD210,000 trapped in Federal Bank and had been struggling to withdraw his money to pay his father’s medical bills and other expenses, according to the family and others involved in the negotiations.
“My brother is not a scoundrel. He is a decent man. He takes what he has from his own pocket to give to others,” Hussein’s brother Atef, standing outside the bank, said during the stand-off.