Lebanese army trains to confront 'bank robbers' freeing their own savings

Lebanese army trains to confront 'bank robbers' freeing their own savings
Video of the training sparked outrage among Lebanese, who have largely supported the bank heists.
3 min read
09 November, 2022
Most Lebanese lost their savings in the 2019 financial crisis and have little legal recourse to recover their money. [Getty]

The Lebanese army has conducted training preparing itself to stop bank robberies and hostage situations, seemingly in response to the series of depositors freeing their own savings by force.

The video, posted on Tuesday on the army's official social media, shows Lebanese soldiers simulating a bank robbery and detaining the supposed perpetrator.

More than a dozen depositors have held up banks to free their own deposits since summer. In 2019, Lebanese banks froze most accounts and instituted strict withdrawal limits which are still in place – in effect confiscating the savings of millions of Lebanese.

"Units carried out exercises that mimicked arresting terrorists after they forcibly entered a number of banks in the context of a terrorist plot … with the aim of misleading security forces," the army said in a statement on Wednesday.

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The training came as part of the Special Operations Forces Exhibition (SOFEX) and was conducted alongside British and US forces, according to the Lebanese army. The army said it was part of greater 'counter-terror' training.

The videos of the training exercises sparked outrage among Lebanese, online and offline.

"They are trying to scare the depositors, to make them think twice. The army is not responsible for such things, it’s the police’s job to go inside. The [army] is being given special orders," Dina Abu Zour, a lawyer with the Depositor’s Union, told The New Arab.

"It's a bit ironic that the army is training how to get hostages out of a bank – we've never heard anything regarding Riyadh Salameh," Zour retorted, referring to the Governor of the Central Bank. Salameh is wanted for questioning by Lebanese courts but has refused to respond to summons so far.

The Lebanese Army spokesperson told TNA that the training exercises had no "relation to any recent actions in banks."

"This was just a training activity, training for special forces against any terrorist activity, like kidnappings, for example," Georges Khoury, the army spokesperson, said.

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More than a dozen depositors have held up banks, some of whom were armed, but only a few have faced any sort of charges. Thus far, the Association of Banks in Lebanon (ABL) and the government have held off on harsh punishments, fearing a popular backlash.

The government, however, has adopted a harsher tone as the phenomenon of bank raids has continued.

Rami Ollaik, a lawyer and the founder of United Against Corruption Lebanon who himself was present during a bank raid last week, said that the army’s involvement in bank raids could signal a dangerous escalation.

"I told the army commander to be wise enough to defuse what’s been circulating. When we were in the bank in the last raid, the four of us were ready to die. And you have more people like this," Ollaik told TNA.

"The Lebanese army had some promise that it would be part of real reform to come. This would paint the Lebanese army as serving the mafia thugs of the deep state of Lebanon," Ollaik added.