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Beirut bank hostage-taker to remain in custody until next week

by Aug 15, 2022Arab Economy, Arab News

A gunman who surrendered after taking hostages at a Beirut bank  and demanding access to his trapped savings is expected to remain detained until at least next week.

Bassam Hussein, 42, is being held at a Beirut intelligence branch and faced his first round of questioning on Thursday night, a legal source told The National.

Prosecutors decided not to release him after questioning.

It remains unclear if the bank or hostages will press charges against Mr Hussein or if he will be charged by prosecutors, after surrendering on Thursday night.

Mr Hussein’s brother, who accompanied him from the bank, said he has not been able to speak to him since.

Family members and supporters blocked a road on Friday morning in protest at Mr Hussein’s detention and said his continued confinement breached an agreement reached on Thursday to end the standoff.

Mr Hussein entered a branch of the Federal Bank of Lebanon in Beirut’s Hamra neighbourhood on Thursday and took customers and staff hostage. He was said to be armed with a shotgun.

He doused the interior of the bank with petrol and threatened to kill his hostages and set himself on fire if he could not take out his $210,000 savings to pay for medical treatment for his father.

After a seven-hour standoff, he handed himself in to police, after the bank reportedly agreed to give him around $35,000 of his trapped savings.

His brother Atef had told journalists that Mr Hussein “wants to get just $5,500 to pay hospital bills”.

He said Mr Hussein had grabbed the weapon “from the bank and did not bring it with him”.

A devastating economic collapse that first became apparent in 2019 and pushed much of Lebanon into poverty has caused the local currency to plunge in value by more than 90 per cent.

Inflation has soared and there are widespread shortages of water, bread, electricity, medicines and other basic supplies.

In 2019 banks imposed informal capital controls, severely restricting access to hard currency, which compounded the difficulties people in Lebanon face.

Banks stopped gibing dollars to depositors,  allowing withdrawals only in vastly devalued Lebanese pounds.

During the stand-off, protesters gathered outside the bank in support of Mr Hussein.

“We are all Bassam,” some chanted, as security forces, some dressed in riot gear, looked on.

Thursday’s events are not the first time this has happened in Lebanon.

In January, coffee shop owner Abdallah Assaii held up a branch of Lebanese bank BBAC in the town of Jeb Jannine, in the Bekaa valley.

He held seven employees hostage until he received $50,000 of his own money. He then surrendered to police.

Bassam Hussein, an armed man who took hostages at a Federal Bank branch in Beirut, sits in a police car after his arrest. AFP

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