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An angry gunman reportedly took up to ten bank employees and customers hostage in Lebanon’s capital Thursday, demanding full access to $200,000 he claims to have stored in an account there before leaving the premises in a car occupied by his brother, reports say.
The dramatic situation that unfolded at a Federal Bank of Lebanon location in Beirut comes as the country remains embroiled in a financial crisis due to successive governments racking up debt, forcing banks to limit withdrawals of hard currency, according to Reuters.
“I’m in my office. He gets agitated then calms down then gets agitated again,” Hassan Halawi, the manager of the bank branch who was among those captive, told Reuters.
A video posted on Twitter shows an individual standing at the entrance of the bank, holding a weapon and talking to a crowd that gathered outside.
A security source told Reuters that he entered the bank in the Hamra neighborhood around noon local time.
“He demanded access to around $200,000 he had in his bank account. When the employee refused the request, he began screaming that his relatives were in the hospital. Then he pulled out the gun,” the source told Reuters.
That individual, identified as 42 year-old Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein, later walked out of the bank and went into a white car occupied by his brother, Al-Jadeed News reported. It was not immediately clear if he had been given any money.
Hussein had entered the bank carrying a canister of gasoline, a security official who spoke on condition of anonymity told the Associated Press. The man fired three warning shots, the official said.
George al-Haj, head of the Bank Employees Syndicate, told local media that seven or eight bank employees were taken hostage along with two customers.
Meanwhile, a crowd that has gathered outside the bank appeared to be showing some support for the hostage taker, chanting “down with the rule of the banks!”, while one man yelled “We are depositors and we want our money! We are with him, we’re even ready to help him!” according to Reuters.
One person in that crowd, identified as Hassan Mughnieh, the head of Lebanon’s Depositors Association, told Reuters that he has been in touch with the gunman and has voiced his concerns to bank leadership.
“He wants to live, he wants to pay his electricity bill, feed his kids and treat his father in the hospital,” Mughnieh said.
Hussein’s brother Atef, standing outside the bank, told The Associated Press earlier that his brother would be willing to turn himself in if the bank gave him money to help with his father’s medical bills and family expenses.
“My brother is not a scoundrel. He is a decent man,” Atef al-Sheikh Hussein said. “He takes what he has from his own pocket to give to others.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.