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An angry gunman reportedly took up to ten bank workers and customers hostage in the Lebanese capital on Thursday, demanding full access to $200,000 he claims he stored in an account there before leaving the scene in a car occupied by his brother, according to reports.
The dramatic situation that unfolded at a site of the Federal Bank of Lebanon in Beirut comes as the country remains mired in a financial crisis due to successive governments accumulating debts, forcing banks to limit currency withdrawals strong, according to Reuters.
“I’m in my office. It fidgets then calms down then fidgets again,” Hassan Halawi, the bank branch manager who was among the captives, told Reuters.
Video posted to Twitter shows an individual standing at the entrance to the bank, holding a gun and speaking to a crowd that has gathered outside.
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A security source told Reuters he entered the bank in Hamra neighborhood around noon local time.
“He requested access to approximately $200,000 he had in his bank account. When the employee refused the request, he started shouting that his relatives were in the hospital. Then he pulled out the weapon,” the source told Reuters.
The individual, identified as 42-year-old Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein, then exited the bank and got into a white car occupied by his brother, Al-Jadeed News reported. It was not immediately clear if he had received any money.
Hussein had entered the bank with a can of gasoline, a security official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. The man fired three warning shots, the official said.
George al-Haj, head of the Bank Employees’ Union, told local media that seven or eight bank workers had been taken hostage along with two customers.
Lebanon’s Interior Ministry said negotiations with the shooter were ongoing and at least one elderly man had been released from the bank.
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Meanwhile, a crowd that gathered outside the bank appeared to show some support for the hostage taker, chanting “Down with the rule of the banks!”, while a man shouted “We are depositors and we want our money! We are with him, we are even ready to help him!” according to Reuters.
One person in that crowd, identified as Hassan Mughnieh, the head of the Lebanese Association of Depositors, told Reuters he had been in contact with the shooter and raised his concerns with bank management.
“He wants to live, he wants to pay his electricity bill, feed his children and treat his father in hospital,” Mughnieh said.
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Hussein’s brother Atef, standing in front of 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 pay medical bills and family expenses from his father.
“My brother is not a scoundrel. He is an honest man,” Atef al-Sheikh Hussein said. “He takes what he has out of his own pocket to give to others.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.