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Lebanese man who held bank staff hostage to access savings released

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    59 minutes ago

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Image source, EPA

A Lebanese judge has ordered the release of a man who took staff at a Beirut bank hostage last week in an attempt to access his frozen savings.

Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein surrendered after the Federal Bank agreed he could withdraw $35,000 (£29,000), which he said he needed to pay hospital bills.

The judge freed him because the bank dropped the charges it had pressed.

He was hailed as a hero by people angry at the banking restrictions imposed in response to Lebanon’s economic crisis.

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Withdrawals of hard currency have been limited for most people since 2019, when the value of the Lebanese pound plummeted and inflation soared.

The country is now in the midst of one of the most severe and prolonged depressions the world has seen, with more than 80% of the population living in poverty and struggling to afford food and medicine.

Judge Ghassan Khoury ordered the release of Mr Hussein on Tuesday after a Federal Bank representative informed prosecutors that it wanted to withdraw its complaint against him, the state-run National News Agency said.

However, it added that Mr Hussein’s case would be referred to an investigative judge, leaving open the possibility that he could still be prosecuted.

“He is sitting with his family now and just relaxing a bit. There is no charge against him and he is a free man,” his brother Atef told Reuters news agency.

Lawyer Rami Ollaik meanwhile confirmed to L’Orient Today that Mr Hussein’s family had also received $35,000 of the $210,000 in his bank account, which he had agreed to accept in exchange for ending the hostage situation.

Last Thursday, Mr Hussein entered a branch of the Federal Bank in west Beirut’s Hamra district armed with a rifle. He threatened to set himself on fire if staff did not allow him to withdraw all of his savings, saying that his father was in hospital and that he needed cash to pay for his treatment.

The stand-off ended peacefully after about seven hours. During that time a crowd gathered near the bank to express their solidarity with Mr Hussein, chanting: “Down with the rule of the banks.”

Relatives and supporters also protested outside Beirut’s main court building on Tuesday while Mr Hussein’s case was heard.

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