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12 hostages freed after eight-hour holdup in Kutaisi bank

20 September 2022
Screengrab from video.

A hostage-taker has been apprehended following an eight-hour holdup in a Bank of Georgia branch in the western Georgian city of Kutaisi.

On Tuesday night, the Georgian Ministry of Interior announced the arrest of the 37-year-old culprit, for holding 14 people hostage in a Bank of Georgia branch in Kutaisi for hours.

The hostages, initially reported to be 12, were released uninjured.

Speaking to the media pool, Deputy Interior Minister Aleksandre Darakhvelidze claimed that the perpetrator was ‘heavily armed’ and that he had resisted the police officers who, according to Darakhvelidze, managed to prevent him from activating a hand grenade. 

The holdup began around 11:30 after which the police cordoned off the nearby area on Rustaveli Avenue.

At least one of the hostages in the bank broadcast several live videos during the holdup.

In one of those videos from inside the bank, the masked robber was seen in military fatigues with what appeared to be explosives duct-taped to his chest. He was also carrying a knife and appeared to have duct-taped a hand grenade to his hand.

He demanded $2 million, a Mercedez Sprinter, a helicopter, a Russian flag, and a fishing rod in exchange for the release of the hostages.

In one of the videos broadcast by a hostage on Facebook, a police negotiator was heard expressing surprise on hearing the demands.

‘I’m not kidding, ma’am. Why would I be making jokes right now?’ the hostage replied to the negotiator. 

At least two hostages were shown calling the authorities on behalf of the hostage-taker while two others, including one hostage broadcasting on Facebook, communicated with police officers who at one point approached a window of the bank.

Shortly before the hold-up ended, the hostage-taker changed his demands by requesting $1.5 million and announcing his intent to release all but two hostages.

Judging from multiple live videos, the police attempted but failed to convince the hostage taker to release the women in the bank.

At one point, the masked man, who consistently refused to speak directly on the phone, was seen losing his patience, grabbing a phone from a hostage, and cursing at a negotiator who was on loudspeaker.

One of the videos also showed what appears to be explosives attached to the inside of the bank’s doors, with a voice heard in the background warning that they would go off if the doors were opened. 

'He says the bombs are connected with lasers, and they will go off as soon as they're open', a hostage is heard saying. 

Several hours after the hostage situation was first reported, one of the hostages was shown having what appeared to be a panic attack.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs said that they were treating the attack as an ‘act of terrorism, taking hostages for terrorist purposes, and illegal purchase, storage, and carrying of ammunition’. 

In recent years, large Georgian financial establishments, including the Bank of Georgia, have been the targets of several attempted robberies, including three hostage situations since late 2020. Police managed to free the hostages unscathed in all three robbery attempts, with the perpetrators apprehended in two of the cases.

Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomealuri, however, has been pressed about the whereabouts of Badri Esebua, who fled the scene with $500,000 in cash after holding 43 hostages in a Brank of Georgia branch in the western Georgian city of Zugdidi in October 2020. 

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