The 42-year-old man has fired three warning shots with a rifle inside the bank premises in the busy Hamra district of Beirut. He is also equipped with a jug of petrol and must have full petrol throughout the room.
Photos of the man show him carrying what appears to be a pump-action shotgun.
The man is said to have entered The Federal Bank of Lebanon in Hamra just before 12 noon on Thursday
– No thug
According to Al Jazeera, the man has threatened to set himself on fire if he is not paid his money.
Security sources state that he is holding seven or eight employees and customers hostage in the premises. A customer in the bank, who fled the building, tells local media that the man has demanded to be paid 2,000 dollars in order to be able to pay for medicine for his father, who is in hospital.
According to the news agency AP, the man’s brother is said to be at the scene.
– My brother is no crook. He is a proper man. He takes what he has in his pockets and gives to others, says his brother Atef al-Sheikh to the news agency.
According to Lebanese media, the man has around 200,000 dollars in his bank account, but Lebanon is in the middle of a bottomless economic crisis, and the country’s banks have since 2019 introduced strict restrictions on the withdrawal of foreign currency. Around 80 per cent of the inhabitants now live below the poverty line.
Large security forces have surrounded the bank premises and tried to persuade the man to surrender, or at least release some of the hostages, but he has so far refused.
A large number of protesters have gathered around the crime scene and are shouting slogans against both the government and the banking system. Some passers-by even call the 42-year-old a hero.
In January, the owner of a cafe took several bank employees hostage and threatened to kill them. He ended up withdrawing $50,000.