BEIRUT: A Lebanese judge has ordered the rele­ase from detention without charge of man who last week took hostages at a Beirut bank in an attempt to access his savings frozen after the country’s 2019 financial implosion, the man’s brother and a legal group said.

Bassam al-Sheikh Huss­ein, 42, entered the Federal Bank of Lebanon branch in Beirut’s Hamra district on Thursday and threatened employees with a firearm, agreeing to leave only after the bank pledged to give him $35,000 out of a total of his more than $200,000 deposit. He said he needed the funds to pay a relative’s hospital bills.

Hussein was detained on Thursday following the rele­ase of all six hostages but released on Tuesday afternoon without any charges being brought against him, his brother Atef said and legal watchdog group Legal Agenda reported.

“He is sitting with his family now and just relaxing a bit. There is no charge against him and he is a free man,” Atef Hussein said.

According to Fouad Debs, the lawyer who represented Hussein last week, the bank pressed charges on Friday and dropped them by Tuesday. Debs said it was still possible that the public prosecution was pressing lighter charges.

“Were hoping this won’t be at expense of him getting the rest of the money in his account,” Debs said.

Hassan Halawi, the head of the branch where the incident occurred, said he had no comment as to whet­her Hussein should have faced charges but said “no one accepts what happened” at the bank.

During the hostage situation, a crowd gathered outside the bank to support Hus­sein, chanting “Down with the rule of the banks!” He has since been praised by many in the country as a hero who stood up to informal capital controls that have not been formalised by law and give banks wide discretion to decide who is allowed to access their funds and how much they can receive.

Published in Dawn, August 17th, 2022

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