A Lebanese man armed with a shotgun broke into a Beirut bank on Thursday, holding employees hostage and threatening to set himself ablaze with gasoline unless he receives his trapped savings, a security official said.
The man, who entered a branch of the Federal Bank in Beirut’s bustling Hamra district, was carrying a canister of gasoline and held six or seven bank employees hostage, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
The man also fired three warning shots, the official said. Local media reported that he has about $200,000 stuck in the bank.
Lebanon’s cash-strapped banks since late 2019 have implemented strict withdrawal limits on foreign currency assets, effectively evaporating the savings of many Lebanese. The country today is suffering from the worst economic crisis in its modern history, where three-quarters of the population have plunged into poverty, and the value of the Lebanese pound has declined by over 90% against the U.S. dollar.
Lebanese army soldiers, police officers from the country’s Internal Security Forces, and intelligence agents have surrounded the area. Officers are talking to the armed man to reach a settlement, but have thus far been unsuccessful.
Cellphone video footage shows the disgruntled man with his shotgun, demanding his money back. In another video, two police officers behind the locked bank entrance asked the man to release at least one of the hostages, but he refused.
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A customer at the bank who fled the building as the situation escalated, told local media that the man was demanding to withdraw $2,000 dollars to pay for his hospitalized father’s medical bills.
In January, a coffee shop owner successfully withdrew $50,000 trapped in a bank branch in eastern Lebanon after holding bank staff hostage, and threatening to kill them.
Lebanon has yet to implement formal capital controls since the onset of the economic crisis.