BEIRUT: A man entered a Byblos Bank branch in the town of Ghazieh, in the south of Lebanon, on Friday morning and threatened employees with a military weapon, demanding they return his financial deposit.
Less than two hours later, a depositor stormed the BLOM Bank branch in Beirut’s Tarik El-Jadida, similarly demanding that his money be released to him.
An official from the bank’s main headquarter told Arab News that they had received photos from inside the bank’s branch indicating a state of panic among employees and customers.
Security forces were negotiating with the armed depositor, the official said.
The Byblos depositor, Mohammed Q., was accompanied by another person when he entered the south Lebanon bank. He poured gasoline on the premises and threatened to burn the branch if he was not given his deposit.
There was a state of panic inside the bank for some time, and the gunman managed to get the entirety of his deposit, $19,200, handing it over to his accomplice, who was waiting outside the bank and who went into hiding with the money.
Later, the gunman and the person who was with him, whom it was determined was his son, gave themselves up, smiling, to security forces who came to the scene.
The gunman and his son were taken to the police station for interrogation.
So far, four bank intruders have managed to obtain a part of their deposits by storming banks and threatening employees with weapons or burning themselves and the premises with gasoline. The intruders were not harshly punished by security services.
Sali Hafiz stormed the Sodeco branch of BLOM Bank in Beirut on Wednesday demanding to withdraw her savings.
Hafiz claimed she needed the money to pay for her sister’s cancer treatment.
She threatened to set herself and the bank on fire if they refused to release her and her sister’s joint deposits of around $20,000.
In a separate incident also on Wednesday, a young man called Rami Sharaf Al-Din entered a branch of Bankmed in the city of Aley. He reportedly threatened employees but, according to officials, members of the security services intervened and arrested him.
Haitham Ezzo, one of the lawyers active in the defense of civilians protesting in the streets, including depositors, told Arab News: “Arrest warrants are issued against bank intruders based on articles in the penal code for forming a gang of bad guys and engaging in intrusions, but in these cases, there is no criminal intent.
In these incidents, Ezzo explained, bank intruders were aiming to recover what they had a right to, “and their aim is not to steal.”
“By not dealing with the crisis, the state is turning ordinary civilians into criminals who are not.”
Ezzo expects that the incursions will continue.
Strict limits on withdrawals of foreign currency were imposed by Lebanon’s cash-strapped banks since 2019, tying up the savings of millions of people.
About three-quarters of the population has slipped into poverty as the Middle Eastern country’s economy continues to spiral.