Armed woman stages heist at Blom Bank in Beirut to recover savings

BEIRUT — Sali Hafiz donned a black T-shirt and trousers and a pair of lime inexperienced sneakers. Masks askew, she charged right into a financial institution in Lebanon’s capital on Wednesday, cocked a gun within the air and demanded her cash.

She grew to become an on the spot hero.

Hafiz is the second individual in Beirut this summer time to take hostages in a financial institution, the place depositors have been prevented from accessing the cash of their accounts for practically two years. The 2 incidents, and the widespread public help for them, illustrate the deep disillusionment in Lebanon towards the state and banking establishments, fueled by mounting anger over the rising price of dwelling and a scarcity of public companies.

In October 2019, amid a spiraling financial disaster, protests erupted throughout the nation, demanding the resignation of the nation’s political elite and an finish to corruption. Fearing a run on the banks, branches shuttered their doorways for weeks, then imposed advert hoc limitations on the quantity of {dollars} that may very well be withdrawn — locking the Lebanese out of their very own accounts.

Banks in the present day enable depositors to take out a most of $400 monthly, along with a extra modest quantity in Lebanese kilos.

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It will have taken Hafiz greater than 4 years to withdraw the $20,000 in her account, and time isn’t in her favor. She wants $50,000 to deal with her sister’s most cancers, she mentioned, and has pleaded with the financial institution for months to entry her funds. “My sister is dying in entrance of my eyes,” she mentioned in an interview with an area channel, purportedly recorded shortly after the heist from an undisclosed location.

“The financial institution has robbed us publicly,” she continued, claiming she reached a degree the place she was going to promote her kidney to pay for the remedy. “I can’t harm an ant,” she mentioned, “however this one who can’t harm an ant is watching part of her soften in entrance of her, and the most individuals do is say, ‘Could God heal her.’ I couldn’t stand idly by when there’s a financial institution proper subsequent to my home during which we have now $20,000.”

After the heist, Blom Financial institution put out a press release confirming that Hafiz was a depositor on the department. It mentioned she entered with a gaggle of individuals, detaining prospects and workers, sprinkled gasoline across the financial institution and threatened to set the individuals inside on hearth. She then compelled the supervisor and the treasurer to open the protected and took the cash inside. There have been no studies of accidents.

One video shared by the Depositors’ Union confirmed Hafiz counting stacks of cash. She solely managed to get $12,000 out, she mentioned later, and the equal of an additional $1,000 in native foreign money.

It was, in some ways, a replay of an incident final month, when a person entered a financial institution in Beirut with a can of gasoline, threatening to set himself on hearth if he was not allowed to withdraw the $210,000 in his account, which he mentioned he wanted to pay his father’s medical payments. He later brandished a rifle, resulting in hours of negotiations that ended with the financial institution agreeing to provide his brother $35,000. The person was arrested, however launched days later and by no means charged with against the law.

A man took hostages at a bank in Lebanon. People came to support him.

As in August, individuals have been fast to rejoice the heist. On social media, many shared pictures of Hafiz contained in the financial institution, imposing a picture of a crown atop her head. Others posted messages of help on her Fb web page. “A hero from my nation,” one wrote. “Bravo,” wrote one other consumer, “issues solely work this manner.”

As Lebanon sinks deeper into financial malaise, individuals are resorting to determined measures. The United Nation’s World Meals Program estimates 46 % of households don’t have sufficient to eat. The World Financial institution has said the financial and monetary disaster might rank within the high three most extreme world crises for the reason that mid-Nineteenth century.

The long-failing electrical energy grid has been worse than ever, with virtually everybody within the nation relying greater than ever on mills, which run on costly gasoline, spew poisonous fumes into the air and fill the overcrowded capital with a continuing thrum of noise. Many in Lebanon have merely opted to reside with out electrical energy, slowly studying to adapt to life with just a few hours of energy a day.

Gasoline costs have additionally shot up this month, after the central financial institution ended a subsidy that it mentioned had drained its reserves. The worth of the Lebanese pound slid to a file low on Wednesday, reaching 37,000 kilos to the greenback, though it stays formally pegged, because it has been for many years, at 1,500 to the greenback.

Salaries haven’t caught up, and unemployment is rampant. Amid the pound’s regular devaluation and triple-digit inflation, many households are unable to afford fundamentals groceries, and even hold the water on.

Towards this backdrop, many are rooting for Hafiz. Shortly after the heist, she posted on Fb, writing, “The entire police are below my home and I’m already on the airport, see you in Istanbul.”

A flight from Beirut to Istanbul was set to take off about an hour later. Lebanon’s Basic Safety Directorate later mentioned she had not left the nation through the airport.

In her interview, she apologized for scaring anybody, including that the gun was a toy she acquired from her younger nephew.

As information broke of a warrant for her arrest, the interviewer requested what she would do if she have been caught. “I need to ask whoever will interrogate me, or whoever will seize me,” Hafiz mentioned, “to place themselves in my footwear. If one thing like this occurred to their son or their sister, I need to see what they might do.”

“Persons are committing suicide,” she continued. “I inform them: Don’t choose up the gun and shoot your self. Go get your cash, even when it prices your life.”

As individuals adopted Hafiz’s story, there have been studies of one other heist in a mountainous metropolis not removed from the capital.

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