Depositors held up at least five separate banks around Lebanon on Friday in an attempt to retrieve savings frozen in the banking system, a Lebanese army official told CNN.
In one of the incidents an armed man entered a bank in the south Lebanese city of Ghazieh and poured gasoline on the floor of the building, threatening to burn the branch if he could not access his money, state news agency NNA reported.
He was able to retrieve $19,200 from the bank and handed it to someone who was waiting for him outside the bank, before handing himself in to authorities, NNA said.
In another incident under investigation, a man entered a branch of BLOM bank in Beirut’s Tariq al-Jdideh neighborhood, also trying to access his savings, the army official said.
The man was allegedly armed but the situation was “under control.. and no one was harmed,” a man, who claimed to be an eyewitness to the incident and was interviewed by local TV channel Al Jadeed said.
“It seems something was planned for this day,” the army official said. An investigation is ongoing, the army official told CNN.
Following the incidents, the caretaker Interior Minister, Bassam Mawlawi, called for an emergency security meeting to “discuss further security measures that can be taken in light of the increasing bank storming incidents,” NNA said.
Lebanon’s banks have locked most depositors out of their savings since an economic crisis took hold three years ago, leaving much of the population unable to pay for basics.
The holdups came two days after similar episodes unfolded at two different Beirut banks. In one, a woman named Sally Hafiz took $20,000 from her account after storming a bank holding what she later claimed was a toy gun, state news reported.
In a separate incident last month, an armed man stormed a Beirut bank and threatened to kill hostages and himself if the bank did not allow him to withdraw money from his frozen account. Bassam Sheikh Hussein claimed he needed the funds to help pay for his father’s medical expenses. The standoff ended when the bank gave Hussein some of his savings.