An activist who recorded herself robbing a bank in Beirut on Wednesday appears to have inspired a string of imitative raids by irate customers.
According to AFP journalists and a security source, there were three more of these instances on Friday in Beirut and two more in south Lebanon.
One incident was a man demanding money from employees at a Byblos bank branch in the southern village of Ghaziyeh while brandishing a rifle and jerrycan of fuel.
Along with his son, he made his demand while threatening the bank employees with the gun, which a Lebanese media station claimed might have been a toy.
“He emptied a jerrycan of fuel on the floor,” a bank security guard told an AFP correspondent.
A mob gathered in front of the bank to encourage him as he turned himself in to police shortly after leaving with roughly $19,000 in cash.
A difficult security situation surrounded a Blom Bank branch a short time later in the Tariq al-Jdideh neighborhood of Beirut, but specifics were sketchy.
A store owner allegedly sought access to his locked money in order to pay off obligations, according to witnesses outside the bank.
He was believed to be unarmed and was locked inside the bank with police officers, witnesses told AFP at the scene.
A second man assaulted a bank on Friday in the Ramlet el-Baida neighborhood of Beirut, according to witnesses who spoke to an AFP photographer on the scene. He was equipped with a hunting rifle.
The spate of heists comes two days after a young activist stormed a central Beirut bank with fuel and a plastic gun to demand the deposits of her sister, who needed to pay for cancer treatment.
The woman identified as Sali Hafiz made off with around $13,000 and became an instant hero on social media.
“She had every right to do this. I would do the same if I was as brave as her,” said Carla Chehab, a 28-year-old Beirut resident.
“The thieves are the banks, the government and all rich people protecting them,” she added.
A self-serving political class and years of corruption have been largely blamed for the severity of Lebanon’s predicament.
While poverty and unemployment have increased, the currency has lost more than 90% of its value on the illicit market in recent years.
Banks have come under fire for allegedly acting like a cartel and smuggling enormous sums of money out of the country for prominent Lebanese politicians at a time when ordinary residents were already unable to send money abroad.
A parliament session to adopt the 2022 budget, a crucial reform required for Lebanon to receive billions of euros from international lenders, was postponed until September 26 due to a lack of quorum.
The man who attacked a bank in Beirut with a weapon last month and held staff and clients hostage while demanding a portion of his $200,000 in frozen money to pay for his father’s medical expenses won popular sympathy.
He was jailed but quickly freed, and on Friday he showed up in Tariq al-Jdideh outside the bank to show his support.
The majority of Lebanese depositors who do not have criminal histories view the latest raids as acts of desperation, which has won the support of the nation’s largest depositors’ group.
“We call on every depositor who refuses injustice, oppression and theft to support any depositor who asks for what is rightfully theirs,” association member Tala Khalil told AFP.