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

The gunman, named by authorities as Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein, is one of millions of people in Lebanon whose lives have been spared during the country’s devastating economic crisis that began in October 2019.

Videos posted on social media showed Hussain in denim shorts and sandals walking nervously around the bank as his hostages tried to reason with him. ‘Give me back my money’ shouted Hussain holding a gun. “I’m running out of time.” He threatened to set the bank on fire and kill everyone there.

As the tense standoff continued, details about the gunman began to emerge. Hussain’s deposit was $210,000, according to security sources. He needed money — about $10,000 — to pay for his father’s operation. Like most Lebanese, it was money he couldn’t access because his bank account was frozen. He said he would surrender to the police if the money was released to his brother.

As the hours passed inside the bank, people gathered on the street outside to cheer Hussain on. They shouted some religious slogans against the government and in their support. The head of the Lebanese Depositors Association, Hassan Mughniyeh, publicly condemned the government and banking elite for Hussein’s financial situation and blamed them for the suspension.

Still, sympathy for Hussain only grew. A barrage of social media posts praised him and security forces began quietly speculating about copycat 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 thinking of doing what he did to jail themselves trying to release their bank deposits to their families,” a security source told CNN. “It’s just a matter of when that trigger point happens.”

Security sources said a large number of people drowning in debt and widespread ownership of weapons in households could trigger more incidents like Thursday’s standoff.

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

According to the Small Arms Survey, a group that monitors arms proliferation, more than 30% of civilians in the country are armed. The unstable political situation in the country has seen many political groups building arsenals.

Analysts and activists argue that the situation has become increasingly unstable not only because of the economic crisis but also because of government abuses. When the financial crisis began in October 2019, banks severely restricted access to customer deposits. However, these restrictions were discretionary and were never made into law. This means banks can release money to whomever they choose and activists accuse politicians of exploiting the situation to transfer billions of dollars out of the country as its coffers dry up. He said the rich are stealing from the poor.

The World Bank agrees with the release of several reports that serve as damning indictments against political elites accused of causing “deliberate depression”.
Lebanon’s currency has lost more than 90% of its October 2019 value. Its infrastructure was devastated with 20-hour power cuts along with shortages of fuel, bread and water. More than 80% of the population lives below the poverty line — up from about 30% three years ago. The banking crisis has exacerbated the situation by denying people access to their savings.

Hours after the clash began, Hussain himself turned himself in to the police. He was promised $30,000 as part of the terms of his surrender. As he exited the bank, he waved to the crowd and the nation watching the event with rapt attention, underscoring the depth of their despair.


Sweden agrees to extradite man to Turkey in wake of NATO deal

Sweden is set to extradite a Turkish citizen back to Turkey after its Supreme Court greenlighted the government’s decision. Angelika Wahlgren, the justice minister’s press secretary, told CNN that the decision was “not connected” to Stockholm’s NATO bid.

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

Iran has warned against action against its nationals after the US accused Iran of plotting an alleged assassination

Iran on Wednesday rejected what it described as a “baseless” claim by the US, after accusing an Iranian man of plotting to kill a former adviser to former US President Donald Trump. Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani was quoted by the state-owned IRNA news agency as saying the allegations were politically motivated. “Iran strongly warns against any action against Iranian citizens under the pretext of accusations,” he said, according to IRNA.

  • Background: The US Justice Department on Wednesday announced criminal charges against a member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for allegedly trying to plan the assassination of John Bolton, who served in senior national security posts during the Trump and Bush administrations.
  • Why it matters: The allegations come as the US negotiates with Iran to return to the 2015 nuclear deal, which the Trump administration withdrew. Iran has previously urged the US to remove the Revolutionary Guard from its list of terrorist organizations.

A man wanted by Saudi Arabia detonated a suicide belt when he was arrested

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 officials and a Pakistani national were injured in the blast, SPA said.

  • Background: A man named Abdullah bin Zayed Abdul Rahman al-Bakri al-Shehri was part of a list of nine men wanted by Saudi authorities, SPA said, citing a state security spokesman. Saudi officials said in 2016 that al-Shehri was involved in a 2015 attack on a mosque belonging to the Special Emergency Forces in southwestern Saudi Arabia that killed 13 people.
  • Why is that important?: Terrorist attacks are rare in Saudi Arabia these days. The state faced a wave of incidents in the early 2000s, in the years following the September 11 attacks on the US, and later in 2014, following the rise of ISIS.

Around the area

A bear cub was found intoxicated and nearly unconscious after going on a “mad-honey” bender in Turkey on Thursday.

Locals in the city of D├╝zce saw a honey-drunk bear on a mountain, looking worse for wear, according to state media. Deciding there wasn’t much he could do, he opted to drive the bear to the local vet.

The bear was posted on social media in the back of a pickup truck, dazed and confused.

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

Graianotoxins found in certain flowers from the Ericaceae family give madder honey its intoxicating effects.

The bear has recovered from its sugar haze and is probably ready to be released back into the wild to chase a safer kind of sugar.

Photo of the day

US DJ and producer Marshmello performed his single on stage in Riyadh on Thursday with Lebanese pop star Nancy Ajram. "Sah Sah"  As part of the Gamers8 concert series.

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