A Lebanese man carrying a gun and a jerrican of fuel withdrew his frozen savings at gunpoint Friday, the third such incident in the crisis-hit country this week

A wave of bank robberies in Lebanon to seize frozen savings

On Friday, a Lebanese man with a gun and a fuel canister took his frozen life savings at gunpoint, the third such incident in the crisis-hit country this week – Copyright AFP/File SAM PANTHAKY

On Friday, a man robbed a Lebanese bank to get his frozen savings out, the latest in a string of “deposit robberies” in the crisis-hit country that drew widespread public support.

Lebanon has been mired in an economic crisis for more than two years as the value of its currency began to plummet and banks began imposing draconian withdrawal limits.

A Beirut bank robbery on Wednesday by an activist who filmed herself holding a toy gun appears to have sparked a series of copycat raids by people fed up with not being able to withdraw their savings.

On Friday, three more similar incidents occurred in the country.

In one of them, a man with a gun and a fuel can demanded from employees of the Byblos branch in the southern city of Ghazia to hand over his deposit.

Accompanied by his son, the 50-year-old man threatened bank employees with a gun, which a Lebanese TV channel said could be a toy, before making his demand.

“He poured a canister of fuel on the floor,” a security guard at the bank told AFP.

The man left with approximately $19,000 in cash, but turned himself in to police seconds later when a crowd gathered in front of the bank to support him.

– Not a bank robber –

Hours later, a tense security situation emerged around the Blom Bank branch in the Beirut district of Tariq al-Jdide, although details remained unclear.

Witnesses outside the bank said the shop owner, who is in debt, demanded access to his stranded savings.

He was locked in a bank with police officers, witnesses at the scene told AFP, but he was believed to be unarmed.

Another man armed with a hunting rifle broke into a bank in Beirut’s Ramlet el-Bayda neighborhood on Friday, witnesses told an AFP photographer at the scene.

The spate of robberies came two days after a young activist broke into Beirut’s central bank with fuel and a plastic gun to demand deposits from her sister, who needed to be paid for her cancer treatment.

The woman, identified as Sali Hafiz, escaped with approximately $13,000 and became an instant social media hero, with a photo of her standing on a table inside a bank during the raid going viral on social media.

“She had every right to. I would do the same if I was as brave as she is,” said Carla Chehab, a 28-year-old from Beirut.

“And don’t let anyone call her a bank robber. The thieves are the banks, the government and all the rich people who protect them,” she added.

Also on Wednesday, a man robbed a bank in the town of Aley, northeast of Beirut, the official National News Agency said.

– Emergency meeting –

As the bank robberies intensified on Friday, the Lebanese Interior Minister called an emergency meeting in the afternoon.

The raids are seen mostly as an act of desperation by Lebanese savers with no criminal record trying to pay off their bills, drawing widespread sympathy from the general public.

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 claim part of his $200,000 frozen savings to pay hospital bills for his ailing father.

He was detained but quickly released and was present outside a bank in Tariq al-Jdid on Friday to show his support.

Lebanon has suffered from one of the worst economic crises in its history.

Its currency has lost more than 90 percent of its value on the black market, while poverty and unemployment have skyrocketed.

Banks are often accused of acting like a cartel and moving large sums out of the country for senior Lebanese officials at a time when foreign transfers for ordinary citizens were already blocked.

The country’s main depositor association expressed support for the bank’s desperate clients.

“We call on every contributor who refuses injustice, harassment and theft to support any contributor who asks for what is rightfully theirs,” association member Tala Khalil told AFP.

The bankers’ association has called an emergency meeting to reduce the risk of further attacks, according to local media reports, by deciding a three-day nationwide shutdown next week.

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