An armed depositor is seen behind the iron bars of a local bank in Beirut after he stormed the branch and held employees and customers as hostages on Thursday.

Why a hostage taker in Lebanon was hailed as a national hero

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The shooter, named by authorities as Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein, is one of millions of Lebanese whose lives were wiped out during the devastating economic crisis that began in October 2019.

Videos posted on social media showed Hussein nervously pacing the bank in denim shorts and sandals, his hostages trying to reason with him. “Give me my money back,” Hussein shouted, brandishing a gun. “I do not have time anymore.” He threatened to burn down the bank and kill everyone.

Details about the shooter began to emerge as the tense confrontation continued. Hussein’s deposit was $210,000, according to security sources. He needed money – about $10,000 – to pay for an operation for his father. It’s money he couldn’t get because, like the vast majority of Lebanese, his bank account was frozen. He said he would turn himself in to the police if the funds were returned to his brother.

As the hours passed inside the bank, people converged on the street to cheer Hussein. They chanted anti-government slogans and even religious slogans in his favour. The head of the Lebanese Association of Depositors, Hassan Mughniyeh, publicly denounced the government and the banking elite for Hussein’s economic situation and blamed them for the standoff.

Yet sympathy for Hussein only grew. A torrent of social media posts praised him, and security forces began quietly speculating about the copying incidents. By the end of the day, he had become a national hero in the eyes of many.

“A lot of people in Lebanon are considering doing what he did, going to jail as they try to free up their bank deposits for their families,” a security source told CNN. “It’s a matter of when that trigger point happens.”

The security source said a large number of people going into debt, combined with widespread possession of weapons in households, could generate more incidents like Thursday’s standoff.

The source spoke on condition of anonymity, due to professional standards in Lebanon, to describe the nature of the thinking within the source’s team.

Lebanon has one of the highest numbers of firearms per capita in the world, according to the Small Arms Survey, a group that monitors the proliferation of weapons, with more than 30% of the country’s civilians being armed. The unstable political situation in the country has seen many political groups build up arsenals.

Analysts and activists say the situation is made more volatile not only by the economic crisis, but also by the government’s mismanagement of it. When the financial crash began in October 2019, banks severely restricted access to customer deposits. However, these restrictions were discretionary and were never made into law. It meant banks could release funds to whomever they wanted, and campaigners accused politicians of exploiting the situation to transfer billions of dollars out of the country as its coffers dried up. It was the rich who robbed the poor, they said.

The World Bank agrees, issuing several reports that have served as damning indictments against a political elite it accuses of causing “deliberate depression”.
The Lebanese currency has lost more than 90% of its October 2019 value. Its infrastructure has fallen into disrepair with more than 20 hours of power cuts in addition to fuel, bread and water shortages. Over 80% of the population lives below the poverty line, up from around 30% three years ago. The banking crisis has exacerbated the situation by depriving people of access to their savings.

A few hours after the start of the clash, Hussein surrendered to the police. He was promised $30,000 as part of the terms of his surrender. As he walked out of the bank, he waved to the crowd and to a nation that watched with rapt attention an incident that underscored the depth of their desperation.

The summary

Sweden agrees to extradite man to Turkey following NATO deal

Sweden is set to extradite a Turkish national to Turkey after its Supreme Court gave the green light to the government’s decision. Angelica Vallgren, press secretary to the justice minister, told CNN the decision was “unrelated” to Stockholm’s NATO bid.

  • Background: Turkey signed at the end of June a trilateral memorandum with Finland and Sweden supporting their candidacy for NATO membership. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sweden promised to extradite 73 people to Turkey because of the memorandum, which states that Sweden and Finland will process Turkey’s pending extradition requests for terrorist suspects in accordance to the European Convention on Extradition.
  • Why is it important: Erdogan previously threatened to veto Sweden’s and Finland’s NATO membership applications, accusing the two countries of harboring members of the separatist militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party, also known as the PKK. The PKK, which aspires to an independent Kurdish state, has waged an armed struggle with Turkey for decades and has been designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

Iran warns against taking action against its nationals after US accuses Iran of alleged assassination plot

Iran on Wednesday dismissed what it called ‘baseless’ claims by the United States, following the indictment of an Iranian in an alleged plot to kill former advisers to the former US President Donald Trump. Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying the charges were politically motivated. “Iran strongly warns against any action against Iranian citizens under the pretext” of the accusations, he said, according to IRNA.

  • Background: The US Department of Justice on Wednesday announced criminal charges against a member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for allegedly attempting to orchestrate the assassination of John Bolton, who served in national security positions under the Trump and Bush administrations.
  • Why is it important: The charges come as the United States is engaged in talks with Iran to return to the 2015 nuclear deal from which the Trump administration withdrew. Iran previously demanded that the United States remove the Revolutionary Guards from its list of terrorist organizations.

Man wanted by Saudi Arabia detonates suicide belt during arrest

A man wanted by Saudi Arabia was killed on Wednesday after detonating a suicide belt in Jeddah during an arrest operation, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said on Friday. Three security guards and a Pakistani national were injured in the blast, the SPA said.

  • Background: The man, Abdullah bin Zayed Abdul Rahman Al-Bakri al-Shehri, was on a list of nine men wanted by the Saudi authorities, SPA said, citing the State Security spokesman. Al-Shehri was involved in a 2015 attack on a mosque belonging to a special emergency force in southwestern Saudi Arabia that left 13 people dead, Saudi authorities said in 2016.
  • why is it important: Terrorist attacks have been rare in Saudi Arabia lately. The kingdom faced a wave of incidents in the early 2000s, in the years following the 9/11 attacks in the United States and then after the rise of ISIS in 2014.

Around the region

A bear cub was found drunk and nearly passed out in Turkey after it ran into a ‘honey mob’ in Turkey on Thursday.

According to state media, residents of the city of D├╝zce found a honey-drunk bear on the mountainside. Deciding there was not much they could do, they opted to drive the bear to the local vet.

Footage posted to social media showed the bear sitting in the back of a van, dazed and confused.

According to the National Library of Medicine, mad honey is different from the honey you might put in your tea because it contains grayanotoxins.

Present in certain flowers of the Ericaceae family, grayanotoxins are the source of the intoxicating effect of mad honey.

The bear has since recovered from its sugar mist and should be released back into the wild, perhaps to hunt a safer type of high sugar.

Photo of the day

American DJ and producer Marshmello teams up with Lebanese pop star Nancy Ajram on stage in Riyadh on Thursday to perform their single "Sah-Sah"  as part of the Gamers8 concert series.

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