In two separate incidents in Lebanon on Wednesday, armed depositors stormed local banks in an attempt to retrieve their own money.
Lebanese banks have blocked most depositors from accessing their own accounts ever since the country’s economic crisis began three years ago.
In the capital city of Beirut, a young woman identified as Sali Hafez entered a branch of BLOM Bank with what seemed to be a pistol and threatened to take the staff hostage to retrieve $13,000 from her own account. In an interview later with the local Al Jadeed TV, she claimed the gun was a toy.
Hafez revealed her identity during the hour-long situation at the bank via a social media livestream, saying that she had come for her money to bring to her sister, “who is dying in hospital.” Hafez added that she is not interested in killing anyone, and only came to claim her rights.
Her mother told local media that the sister had accumulated medical bills from her cancer treatment.
Hafez told Lebanese media that she had visited the bank and asked for the money repeatedly to no avail. She was told she could receive only $200 a month in Lebanese pounds.
A video posted by Reuters showed bank tellers handing an armed Hafez the amount she had requested. A depositors’ advocacy group cited by The Jerusalem Post confirmed she was able to receive the money she demanded. The BBC noted that it was not clear if she was arrested afterwards.
Later in the day, a similar situation occurred in the Lebanese city of Aley. An armed man entered a branch of Bankmed, demanding the release of his own savings. Authorities reportedly arrested the man before he retrieved his money.
Both incidents came after a Lebanese citizen, Bassam al Sheikh Hussein, stormed a Federal Bank branch in Beirut with a rifle in mid-August and held up hostages for seven hours in an attempt to withdraw $35,000 for his sick father who was in the hospital. The court released al Sheikh Hussein in late August, after the bank dropped the charges against him, and he was celebrated as a hero in Lebanon for weeks.
Hafez is also receiving positive attention on social media for her actions.