Man Holds Bank Hostage, Demands His Own Money

Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein is now being hailed a hero in Lebanon
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 12, 2022 9:36 AM CDT
He Held a Bank Hostage—and Was Hailed a Hero
An armed man Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein, 42, background, speaks with a security officer after he took hostages inside a bank, in Beirut, Lebanon, on Thursday.   (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

(Newser) – A man with a gun held a Lebanese bank hostage for more than six hours on Thursday—firing warning shots and threatening to set himself on fire—then emerged to be hailed a hero. Banks in Lebanon imposed strict rules on withdrawals in 2019 amid a devastating economic crisis that has only deepened since then. Many banks now limit monthly withdrawals to $200, reports the Guardian. Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein, who authorities say stormed into a Federal Bank branch in the capital of Beirut, had demanded his own funds to pay for the hospital care of family members, the BBC reports. A brother of the 42-year-old food-delivery driver told reporters that he "has $210,000 in the bank and wants to get just $5,500 to pay hospital bills."

"My brother is not a scoundrel, he is a decent man," Atef al-Sheikh Hussein told the AP. "He takes what he has from his own pocket to give to others." Other relatives gathered outside the bank in the bustling Hamra district said everyone should fight for access to what is "rightfully theirs." The public was certainly on Hussein's side. "Down with the rule of the banks," shouted a crowd at the scene. "All of Lebanon wants to do this," one onlooker told the Guardian. A deal was eventually reached to allow the man to withdraw $35,000, per the BBC. He then released the uninjured hostages, including at least six bank employees, and surrendered, per Al Jazeera. "You are a hero," the crowd chanted.

This follows a similar incident in January when a man took a bank hostage in eastern Lebanon's Bekaa Valley until he was able to withdraw $50,000 of his own funds. "Similar incidents keep happening," George al-Hajj, the head of Lebanon's bank employees' union, tells AFP. "Depositors want their money, and unfortunately their anger explodes in the face of bank employees." Lebanon's former economy minister Raed Khoury says Hussein had "the right to take his money" but "his anger and frustration should be directed at the government, and not at the banks and bank employees," who are victims of the government's corruption, per Al Jazeera. Hussein was arrested after exiting the bank, but it's unclear if he will face charges. (Read more Lebanon stories.)

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