A Lebanese woman held up a bank in Beirut on Wednesday and reportedly made off with thousands of dollars to fund what she said was hospital treatment for her sick sister.
The move and another robbery on Wednesday come as Lebanese depositors, whose savings have been devalued and stuck in banks for nearly three years amid an economic collapse, are taking matters into their own hands.
Sally Hafeez live-streamed a video of her raid on the Blom Bank branch in Beirut, in which she shouted at employees to hand over a sum of money while the bank’s entrances were locked.
“I’m Sally Hafeez, I’ve come today… to collect the deposits of my sister who is dying in the hospital,” she said in the video.
“I didn’t come to kill or set someone on fire… I came to claim my rights.”
In an interview with a local broadcaster after the theft, Hafeez said she was able to free about $13,000 of the $20,000 she said her family had put up.
Her sister’s cancer treatment costs $50,000, she said.
An AFP reporter at the scene said gasoline was poured inside the bank during the heist, which lasted less than an hour.
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Hafiz told local media that she used her nephew’s toy gun for the seizure.
Hafiz and the suspected accomplices managed to escape through a broken window at the back of the bank before security forces arrived, an AFP correspondent said.
Also on Wednesday, a man held up a bank in the city of Aley, northeast of Beirut, the official National News Agency (NNA) reported.
He was arrested, NNA reported, without specifying whether he managed to collect the money.
– ‘Thank you’ –
Hafiz is a 28-year-old activist and interior designer, her sister Zeina told AFP.
She said the family had no contact with Hafeez after the theft and were not involved in its planning.
Hafiz has become an instant folk hero on social media in Lebanon, where many are desperate to access their savings and rage against a banking sector perceived as a corrupt cartel.
Photos and footage of her standing on a bank table with a weapon have gone viral on social media.
“Thank you,” wrote one Twitter user. “Two weeks ago I was crying in Blom Bank. I needed money for an operation. I’m too weak to hold a gun and take what’s mine.’
Last month, a man drew widespread sympathy after he stormed a Beirut bank with a rifle and held employees and customers hostage for hours to claim some of his frozen $200,000 in savings to pay hospital bills for his ailing father.
He was detained, but quickly released.
In January, a client of the bank took dozens of people hostage in eastern Lebanon after being told he could not withdraw his foreign currency savings, a source at the lender said.
Local media reported that the customer eventually received some of his savings and surrendered to law enforcement.
Lebanon is suffering from its worst economic crisis since 2019. The local currency has lost more than 90 percent of its value on the black market, while poverty and unemployment have soared.