Woman holds up Lebanese bank for $13,000 of her own money

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.

 Members of the Lebanese army stand guard outside a Blom Bank branch in Beirut (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMED AZAKIR)
Members of the Lebanese army stand guard outside a Blom Bank branch in Beirut
(photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMED AZAKIR)

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

Shortly thereafter, an armed man entered a branch of Bankmed in Lebanon's mountain city of Aley and attempted to retrieve his trapped savings, the advocacy group Depositors Outcry and a security source told Reuters.

The security source said the man had been able to retrieve a portion of his money before he handed himself over to security forces and was detained.

Bankmed declined to comment while BLOM Bank confirmed in a statement that the hostage situation had ended but did not give further details.

Security forces were not immediately available for comment on both incidents.

 A woman, who was identified as Sally Hafez, is seen carrying what appeared to be a gun at a Blom Bank branch in Beirut, in this screengrab taken from Al Jadeed footage, Lebanon September 14, 2022. (credit: AL JADEED/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS) A woman, who was identified as Sally Hafez, is seen carrying what appeared to be a gun at a Blom Bank branch in Beirut, in this screengrab taken from Al Jadeed footage, Lebanon September 14, 2022. (credit: AL JADEED/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

Lebanon's financial crisis

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, and the government has so far failed to address the crisis.

Wednesday's incidents come roughly a month after a man in mid-August held up another Beirut commercial bank to withdraw his own funds to treat his sick father.

Around 11:00 am on Wednesday, a woman later identified by her mother as Sali Hafiz, and carrying what appeared to be a gun, entered BLOM Bank in Beirut's Sodeco neighborhood and demanded access to her funds, a security source told Reuters.

Hafiz later told local news channel Al Jadeed TV the gun was a toy, and that she was seeking to retrieve money to finance the treatment of her sister who has cancer.

"I have nothing more to lose, I got to the end of the road. I went to the branch manager two days ago and said my sister is dying, she doesn't have time," she said, adding that the amount that she had been offered was inadequate.

"I got to a point where I was going to sell my kidney so that my sister could receive treatment," she said. Hafiz said she left with $13,000, most of it in cash dollars.

A source at the Depositors Outcry association told Reuters that the group took responsibility for the incident.

Hafiz's mother Hiam told a local Lebanese television station that the money was crucial for the survival of her daughter.

"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.

Reuters was unable to immediately contact Hafiz.

The security services did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the legal implications of the incident.

After the previous hostage incident in August, the accused perpetrator was arrested but then later released without charge after the bank dropped its lawsuit.