Bank customer holds dozens hostage in eastern Lebanon

Lebanon has been mired in deep economic crisis since 2019.

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A bank customer held dozens of people hostage in eastern Lebanon after he was told he could not withdraw his foreign currency savings, a source at the lender said Tuesday. The hostage taker demanded $50,000 of his money at a branch in Jeb Janine, in the Bekaa Valley, a source at the Bank of Beirut and the Arab Countries (BBAC) said.

After being refused, “he brandished a gun and grenade in front of staff and doused himself in petrol before pouring it on the premises and threatening to set it alight,” the BBAC source said. 

Local media reported that the customer was eventually given some of his savings and surrendered to security forces. A security source told AFP that nobody was hurt.   

Lebanon has been mired in deep economic crisis since 2019, when the black market value of the local currency began to plummet and banks started to place restrictions on foreign currency withdrawals. Lenders have also prevented money from being transferred abroad.

Confrontations between angry depositors and staff adhering to their employers’ policies are far from rare.

The local currency has lost around 90 percent of its value on the black market since the onset of the crisis. Savers have mobbed banks afresh in recent days, making it difficult to control entry.

“This may explain how an armed client was able to gain entry,” the BBAC source said.

Around 80 percent of Lebanese live in poverty, amid rampant inflation and extended power cuts.

International donors say much needed aid is conditional on reforms, which politicians have so far resisted implementing.

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