Fake police station busted after operating for months


A client took hostages in a Beirut bank claiming that she needed her frozen funds back

A Lebanese woman, with a gun she claimed was a toy, took hostages at a branch of Blom bank in central Beirut on Wednesday, demanding to withdraw her own money from a frozen account. It is the second hostage situation in less than two months as the country’s banking crisis has left many people without access to their own cash.

Due to a shortage of foreign currency, banks are refusing to issue money from citizens’ deposits in ‘hard’ currency, instead offering clients Lebanese pounds at a rate significantly lower than the ‘black market’ rates.

Videos and images circulating on social media show several people storming the bank. A woman, later identified as Sali Hafiz, is seen pulling out a gun and taking hostages. Witnesses, including an AFP photographer, claimed that Hafiz and other intruders also doused gasoline and threatened to burn the bank down.

Hafiz livestreamed part of the raid. In the video she claimed that she was not going “to kill anyone or set the place on fire” and was in the bank to defend her rights and to help her dying sister.

While several participants of the raid were detained by police at the scene, Hafiz managed to escape. In an interview with the Al-Jadeed TV channel following the incident she confirmed that she had managed to withdraw $12,000 and 1,000 Lebanese pounds from her total deposit of $20,000. The 28-year-old also revealed that the gun she used was a plastic toy that belonged to her nephew.

An hour after storming the bank, Hafiz took to Facebook to say that she was already at the airport. “The whole state is at my house while I’m at the airport. See you all in Istanbul!” she wrote. According to unconfirmed reports, she was arrested soon after posting the message.

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

In August, a man who was holding employees of another Beirut bank hostage for several hours to secure $35,000 of his savings, was released without charge after the bank dropped the charges.

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