Armed man takes hostages at Beirut bank demanding return of frozen funds
An armed man is holding employees and customers hostage at a bank on Beirut's bustling Hamra street Thursday demanding his frozen funds be released, according to a security source and Lebanon's state-owned National News Agency.
Negotiations are taking place to try to convince the hostage-taker to stand down, according to the security source. The source spoke on the condition of anonymity due to professional norms.
The armed man is demanding the bank return money from his frozen account to pay for his father's operation, threatening to torch the bank and kill everyone in it, according to NNA. The man, who was seen in social media video wielding an assault rifle, insists that the bank give him $209,000 from his frozen account.
"Give me back my money!" the man was heard shouting out in a social media video recorded from the bank. "I don't have a lot of time."
The bearded hostage-taker is seen nervously pacing around the bank as he curses at his hostages.
Scores of people have gathered outside the bank demanding that the bank return the funds to the hostage-taker in an incident that has spotlighted the desperation of Lebanese depositors in the midst of the country's financial tailspin. Many of the hostage-takers supporters chanted anti-government slogans.
Since the start of Lebanon's financial crisis in October 2019, the country's banking sector has imposed discretionary capital controls, severely restricting people's access to their life savings.
The head of the Lebanese Depositors' Association, Hassan Mughniyeh entered the bank in an attempt to negotiate the release of the hostages but the man fired two stray shots, according to NNA.
"The political authority and banking institutions in Lebanon are responsible for this situation," Mughniyeh said according to NNA. "If matters are not addressed swiftly, the situation will worsen."
Lebanon's economic crisis, which erupted in 2019, has propelled more than three quarters of the population into poverty and caused the local currency to lose over 90% of its October 2019 value.