BEIRUT: An armed female depositor stormed a BLOM Bank branch on Wednesday morning, and held employees as hostages as she demanded that her trapped savings be released so she can use them for her sister’s cancer treatment.
The woman, who identified herself as Sali Hafiz in a social media post, brandished a pistol as she forcibly closed the branch for an hour until she managed to get her savings and fled.
Earlier reports also claimed she was arrested by members of the General Security Authority, but some witness said the woman eventually left with cash in a plastic bag.
A report from The Associated Press said that she and some activists entered the BLOM Bank branch and stormed into the manager’s office. They forced bank employees to hand over $12,000 and the equivalent of about $1,000 in Lebanese pounds.
Hafiz told local Al-Jadeed TV that she needed the money to fund her sister’s cancer treatment. She said she had repeatedly visited the bank to ask for her money and was told she could only receive $200 a month in Lebanese pounds. Hafiz said the toy pistol belonged to her nephew.
“I had begged the branch manager before for my money, and I told him my sister was dying, didn’t have much time left,” she said in the interview. “I reached a point where I had nothing else to lose.”
Hafiz said she had a total of $20,000 in savings trapped in that bank. She said she had already sold many of her personal belongings and had considered selling her kidney to fund her 23 year-old sister’s cancer treatment.
“They doused gasoline everywhere inside, and took out a lighter and threatened to light it,” Nadine Nakhal, a customer at the bank, told The Associated Press. She said the armed woman threatened to shoot the manager if she did not receive her money.
The activists accompanying the woman were from a group called Depositors’ Outcry. Security forces standing outside arrested several of the activists, including a man carrying a handgun.
Hassan Mughniyeh, the head of the Lebanon’s Depositors Association, meanwhile has confirmed to Arab News of a similar incident in Aley, Mount Lebanon.
A young man broke into a branch of Bankmed to demand for his money so he can use it for a sick family member, Mughniyeh said.
#Breaking — A new hostage situation at a Lebanese bank, where an armed female depositor entered with backing from the Depositors Outcry association, held employees at gunpoint and has since left with around $13,000 said to be for the cancer treatment of her sister. pic.twitter.com/RA4cnSvVaD
— Timour Azhari (@timourazhari) September 14, 2022
The BLOM Bank branch, which has about 14 employees, is located at Beirut’s Sodeco intersection opposite the headquarters of the General Security Authority. Lebanon’s cash-strapped banks have imposed strict limits on withdrawals of foreign currency since 2019, tying up the savings of millions of people.
Sali Hafiz posted a live video on Facebook stating the reason why she stormed the bank.
Speaking to the camera, she said, “My name is Sali Hafiz, I’m here at the BLOM Bank to take the deposits of my sister who is dying in the hospital. I’m not here to fight or cause chaos. I’m just here to get my rights back.”
She was also seen on video demanding the rest of her money from the bank employees.
A statement from Lebanon’s depositors’ group have warned banks about ‘continuing to seize people’s money.
“We will not stand idly by as banks continue to seize our money,” the group said.
Another social media post from the depositor, accompanying a picture of her sick sister said: “My life, I will bid farewell to you as you go for your treatment abroad and so you can come back healthy and raise your daughter. Even if it costs me my life. May God heal you, the dearest to my heart.”
The social media post has been widely shared across platforms.
– with AP