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Last Updated:  Sunday, 30 March, 2003, 01:54 GMT 02:54 UK
Bomb drama at Beirut bank
The would-be bomber (bearded) is arrested
Anti-coalition feeling is high in Lebanon
Lebanese police have arrested an anti-war protester who held customers and staff hostage in a UK-linked bank in the capital, Beirut, threatening to detonate explosives strapped to his body.

The man, identified by police as 45-year-old Samir Abdel Karim Berro, held up the HSBC bank for at least one hour before agreeing to surrender and there were no casualties.

He said he was acting in defence of "the people of Iraq and the people of Palestine" in a statement he was allowed to read out to reporters as part of the surrender negotiations.

Lebanese Interior Minister Elias Murr personally took part in the negotiations, entering the city centre bank to talk to Mr Berro for 15 minutes.

The interior ministry confirmed after the incident that the would-be bomber had had TNT explosives strapped to his body.

He had "wanted to blow himself up because he had nothing to lose", Mr Murr told Lebanese TV as police questioned Mr Berro in custody.

Trigger

The drama began at around 1100 (0900 GMT) on Saturday when Mr Berro walked into the bank in the city's western Hamra district and grabbed one employee by the neck, threatening to detonate explosives.

A few bank employees managed to escape unharmed but, according to security guard figures, 12 employees and customers were taken hostage.

"He held me and had explosives around his waist and the trigger was in his right hand," bank employee Bassam Kaddan, 42, later told AP news agency.

"He [first] asked the cashier for money... and [then] said he wanted to strike British interests in Lebanon."

Heavily armed Lebanese security forces sealed off the area surrounding the bank and ambulances were put on stand-by.

Following negotiations with the head of Lebanon's anti-terrorist brigade and the interior minister, Mr Berro emerged to read out his written statement to the press, before being removed by police.

A small explosion damaged the outer wall of the British Council in Beirut earlier in the week.

Correspondents report that hostility has been growing in Lebanon since the start of the war on 20 March.


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