Judge Khoury orders release of Federal Bank hostage-taker


Attorney General Judge Ghassan Khoury on Tuesday ordered the release of Federal Bank hostage-taker Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein.

The National News Agency said the decision was taken after the bank dropped the lawsuit against the defendant.

“His papers have been referred to the Beirut investigative judge,” NNA added.

The Depositors Outcry Association had earlier in the day staged a sit-in outside the Justice Palace in Beirut in solidarity with al-Sheikh Hussein, demanding his immediate release and an end to depositors’ plight. They also blocked the road outside the palace for some time.

Al-Sheikh Hussein had entered the bank on Thursday where he held staff hostage for eight hours because he couldn't access funds frozen after the country's economic collapse. Armed with a rifle, he doused the interior of the bank with gasoline.

But after eight hours the standoff ended peacefully.

"Bassam you are a hero!" cheering bystanders chanted outside the bank.

The incident was the latest involving local banks and angry depositors unable to access savings that have been locked in Lebanese banks since the country's economic crisis began in 2019.

Official media said the suspect turned himself in when the bank agreed to give him $35,000 out of his more than $200,000 in trapped savings.

Protesters at the scene had chanted "down with the rule of the banks," while others took to social media to express their support for the shaggy-bearded suspect wearing shorts and flip-flops.

The man "threatened to set himself on fire and to kill everyone in the branch, pointing his weapon in the bank manager's face," NNA said.

He said he stormed the bank because his father "was admitted to hospital some time ago for an operation and could not pay for it," NNA added.

Lebanon has been mired in an economic crisis for more than two years, since the market value of the local currency began to plummet and banks started to enforce draconian restrictions on foreign and local currency withdrawals.

Lenders have also prevented transfers of money abroad.

The local currency has lost more than 90 percent of its value since the onset of the crisis.

Inflation is rampant, electricity is scarce and, according to the United Nations, around 80 percent of Lebanese live in poverty.

Many Lebanese blame the country's political elite, wealthy and aged figures entrenched for decades. They cite corruption and also blame the banking sector for the country's economic collapse.

International donors say aid to the bankrupt country is conditional on reforms, which politicians have so far resisted.

"A depositor is not taking people hostage. It's bank owners and their friends in the ruling militias who are taking an entire people hostage," economist Jad Chaaban said on his Facebook page.

Comments 1
Thumb i.report 16 August 2022, 16:20

It’s a moral duty for a depositor to do whatever he can to recuperate his savings if denied by the bank when there’s a life at risk such as a hospitalization or starvation involved . I hope many more will follow his path .