Woman holds up Lebanese bank for $18,300 of her own money

It was the second such incident in Lebanon in around a month. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIRUT - A brief hostage situation at Lebanon's BLOM Bank ended Wednesday when an apparently armed woman and her associates left the bank carrying more than US$13,000 (S$18,300) in cash from her own account, a source from a depositors' advocacy group said.

Lebanon's banks have locked most depositors out of their savings since a financial crisis took hold three years ago, leaving much of the population unable to pay for basic needs.

It was just the latest in a string of heists as Lebanese depositors take matters into their own hands.

Ms Sali Hafiz streamed a live video of her raid, in which she could be heard yelling at employees to release a sum of money while entrances to the bank were sealed.

“I am Sali Hafiz, I came today... to take the deposits of my sister who is dying in the hospital,” she said in the video.  “I did not come to kill anyone or to start a fire... I came to claim my rights.”

The woman instantly turned into a folk hero on social media in Lebanon, where many are desperate to access their savings and furious at a banking sector perceived as a corrupt cartel.

A second woman who appeared in the video claimed they secured more than US$13,000, while a man standing beside her carried what appeared to be stacks of banknotes wrapped in plastic.

An AFP correspondent at the scene said petrol was poured inside the bank during the heist, and a gun was later found on the ground, although it was not immediately clear if it was real.

The correspondent said Ms Hafiz and her suspected accomplices managed to escape through a smashed window out the back before security forces arrived.

The heist lasted under an hour.

Ms Hafiz's mother told a local Lebanese television station that her daughter took money from her own account to treat her younger sister who has cancer.

"If we hadn't done this, my daughter could have died," she told Al-Jadeed.

"All we have is this money in the bank. My daughter was forced to take this money - it's her right, it's in her account - to treat her sister," she said.

Last month, a man received widespread sympathy after he stormed a Beirut bank with a rifle and held employees and customers hostage for hours to demand some of his US$200,000 in frozen savings to pay his sick father's hospital bills. He was detained but swiftly released.  

In January, a bank customer held dozens of people hostage in eastern Lebanon after he was told he could not withdraw his foreign currency savings. Local media reported that the customer was eventually given some of his savings and surrendered to security forces.

Lebanon has been battered by its worst-ever economic crisis since 2019. The local currency has lost more than 90 per cent of its value on the black market, while poverty and unemployment have soared.  AFP, REUTERS

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.