Entrepreneur hailed a hero after threatening to burn down bank – to get his own money


Hours after Abdallah Al-Saii spilled gasoline on the floors of his hometown bank and threatened to use his lighter to burn it if he didn’t have his money, he was hailed as “al batal”, Arabic for hero.

“They stole my money and I wanted it back,” he told the Post on Wednesday in an interview from his home in Kefraya, a village in Lebanon’s western Beqaa district, about 80 km to the southeast. from Beirut. “I had $400,000 deposited in the bank, but since 2019 they only allowed me to withdraw $200 per month.”

Al-Saii said the money came from the sale in 2018 of a family property in the Western Bekaa, a valley dotted with vineyards and farms.

Deposits have been frozen in Lebanon since the collapse of the country’s economy in 2019 – a situation caused by years of corruption, waste and mismanagement, economists say. The spiraling financial crisis has plunged 80% of the country into poverty and seen the local currency lose 95% of its value – a situation the World Bank recently called the worst financial crisis since the 19th century.

Reports indicate that disgruntled depositors withholding banks to recover their own money are now commonplace across the country, with Al-Saii being among the first. But hardly the last. Earlier this month, an armed woman robbed a bank in Beirut, walking away with $13,000 of her own money.

Lebanese “bank robber” Al-Saii with his wife Karen Jimenez, son David and daughter Lunamar. The entrepreneur said he lost money at a car wash business in Columbia, where his wife is from, because he couldn’t access her account.
Provided by Abdullah Al-Saii

Al-Saii, 38, recovered $50,000 of his own money after a tense three-hour standoff with police and officials at a branch of the Lebanese bank BACC in Kefraya in January. Immediately after, his picture appeared in newspapers and TV screens in Lebanon, and social media posts hailed him as a hero.

The father-of-two, who lives between Lebanon and his wife’s native Colombia, said he lost money at a car wash he tried to set up in the South American country. South because he could not access his deposits when the Lebanese economy collapsed.

“I had a few bills left to pay suppliers, but I couldn’t withdraw my money, and it all fell apart,” he said.

The only way to secure his money was to use bank checks which charged more than 20% cashing fees, he said. After losing much of his initial deposit of $400,000 to the fees, Al-Saii, who runs a mini-market selling groceries and wine, said he was determined to get the everything that belonged to him.

Lebanese soldiers guard a bank in Beirut following anti-government protests.  Such scenes are becoming more common as Beirut residents grow tired of the country's economic disaster.
Lebanese soldiers guard a bank in Beirut following anti-government protests. Such scenes are becoming increasingly common as Lebanese grow tired of the country’s economic disaster.
AFP via Getty Images

Earlier this year, he went to the bank and spoke to the manager who told him it was impossible to extract the full amount remaining – around $50,000. The next day, January 17, Al-Saii said he had decided to act. He made coffee and drove to the cemetery to say a prayer at his mother’s grave before heading to a nearby gas station with his father.

‘I bought two bottles of gas and went to the entrance of the bank,’ he told the Post, adding that he almost lost his temper when he saw children who had entered the building with their mothers.

“I thought there was nothing I could do when I saw those kids, but when they left I followed the bank manager into an office and asked for my money,” he said. , adding that he was brandishing the gas cans and a lighter.

Al-Saii for a happier time playing with a snake.  He was so desperate to withdraw his savings that he spent 17 days in jail after threatening to burn down his local bank branch.
Al-Saii playing with a snake in his native Lebanon. The desperado spent 17 days in jail after threatening to burn down his local bank branch.

Al-Saii said the manager offered to write him a check for the equivalent of $10,000, but when he refused, the manager said he should call his superiors.

“I told them ‘call whoever you want, you can call God if you want, but I’m not leaving here until I get my money’,” he said.

Negotiations soon involved six bank employees and security, who called the police. Authorities surrounded the building and called his brother who works for the Lebanese equivalent of the FBI to help with the negotiations.

Al-Saii said he was impassive. “I have nothing to do with the police,” he said. “All I wanted was what was mine.”

Soldiers and armored vehicles outside a Beirut bank earlier this month after a frustrated depositor stormed the branch and, like Al-Saii, demanded his money.  It was one of three such incidents in Beirut that week.
Soldiers and armored vehicles outside a Beirut bank earlier this month after a frustrated depositor stormed the branch and, like Al-Saii, demanded his money. It was one of three such incidents in Beirut that week.
dpa/picture alliance via Getty I

When he heard bank managers talking to his brother and trying to arrange his arrest, he started screaming. Then he said he started spilling gasoline in the manager’s office. “I told them I would turn on the bank and we would all die,” he said.

The bankers eventually pulled out what they called their “safe” and handed him $50,000 in cash. Al-Saii demanded a receipt and called his wife, who had no idea he was robbing the bank, and asked her to come to the building with a friend, he said.

After handing over the money to his shocked wife, Al-Saii was arrested. He spent 17 days in prison before being released and now – as the Lebanese economy continues to crumble and copycat “heists” become commonplace – Al-Saii is seeking asylum in the United States.

After years of economic turbulence, banks across Lebanon are no longer allowing customers access to their own money, forcing residents like Abdallah Al-Saii to "Rob" branches to claim their deposits.  After Al-Saii "restrained" a bank in January, he was celebrated as a social media hero in posts like this.
After years of economic turbulence, banks across Lebanon are no longer allowing customers access to their own money, forcing locals like Abdallah Al-Saii to “rob” branches to claim their deposits. After Al-Saii ‘robbed’ a bank in January, he was celebrated as a hero on social media in posts like this.

He told the Post he wanted a safe place to raise his two children, ages seven and four.

“I did what I had to do,” he said. “I don’t think I did anything wrong. I did everything because I was robbed by the government. Everyone called me a hero – the strongest of the strong.

New York Post

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