6 Revolutionary Groups That Robbed Their Country's Banks

© ALI HAIDER/epa/Corbis

Back in May, The Washington Post reported that Libyan rebels had obtained funds by “liberating” government assets worth $505 million in the Central Bank of Libya’s Benghazi branch. Ali Tarhouni (pictured), the rebels’ minister of finance, explained the move to foreign journalists: “Let me put this way: We robbed our own bank.” Locksmiths used an industrial drill to open the vault holding Qaddafi’s cash. The straightforward procedure also had a desired publicity effect, highlighting the rebels’ need for funds (possibly drawn from Qaddafi’s frozen foreign assets).

You can’t deny there’s something almost romantic about political bank robberies. And unsurprisingly there is a long (if not always respectable) history of revolutionaries robbing banks to support their causes.

1. Stalin, Man of Steal

Though he would have very likely been a criminal anyway, Josef Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, a.k.a. “Koba,” a.k.a. “Stalin” (man of steel), was one of a number of bank robbers working for the Communist Bolshevik and Menshevik parties during their struggle against Russia’s Czarist monarchy.

Most notably, Koba (whose nom de guerre came from a Russian story about bandits) was the main planner of the famous stagecoach holdup in downtown Tiflis on June 26, 1907, which netted the Bolsheviks the equivalent of $3.4 million in today’s dollars. No one knows whether he took part in the actual execution of the attack, in which his team lobbed grenades at the bank stagecoach and its mounted escort from on top of a nearby building, then opened fire on the guards, killing up to 40 guards and civilians as well as a number of horses, according to contemporary reports.

Stalin’s revolutionary comrade Simon Ter-Petrossian, a.k.a. Kamo, seems to have taken most of the risks and done most of the actual fighting in the Tiflis job (including a grievous bomb-making injury, suffered beforehand, which left him confined to bed for a month) while Stalin calmly smoked a cigarette, according to a police report. In typical fashion, Lenin tried to distance himself from the Tiflis job when the Bolsheviks started getting bad press. Later Trotsky carped that Koba just stood back and let others do all the fighting; of course, criticizing Stalin was never a super idea, as Trotsky would find out when Stalin’s agents killed him with a pickax in Mexico City in 1938. Kamo died in a suspicious motorcycle accident in 1922, leading some to speculate Stalin also had him rubbed out because of his role in the bank robbery.

2. Mao and the Five-Finger Discount of the Proletariat

Another revolutionary who grew up on tales of Robin Hood-like bandits, Mao Zedong emphasized the need for rebels to recruit “bands of brigands and bandits,” if only to prevent the enemy from recruiting the tough guys to their side. If these hardened criminals could be employed to support the revolutionary cause, all the better.

In September 1927, Mao organized an uprising in Hupei that began with a dramatic train robbery capturing a bank money shipment; this feat inspired Japanese Communists to undertake a disastrous 1932 bank robbery that ended in arrests and bad PR. Not to be outdone, in May 1949 Mao’s opponent Chiang Kai-shek joined forces with a notorious gangster named “Big-Eared Du” (Du Yuesheng) to illegally remove (or “steal”) the Nationalist government’s gold from the Bank of China in Shanghai, shortly before fleeing to Taiwan.

Interestingly, Mao himself would unleash another wave of revolutionary bank robberies in mainland China… decades after defeating Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalists in the Chinese Civil War. During the Cultural Revolution from 1966-1976, Mao sought to rebuild his power by stirring up the Red Guards -- young hotheads committed to the total overthrow of Chinese society. Of course one of the best ways of shaking up society is robbing banks, and Red Guard thugs held up dozens of banks in a handful of provinces from 1966 until 1969 (when Mao, ironically presenting himself as the guardian of law and order, told the Red Guards to cut it out).

3. Robbing Banks in the Promised Land

During their struggle to create the Jewish state in the 1930s-1940s, big Zionist groups like the Haganah and Irgun relied on foreign donors and “taxes” levied on the Jews of Palestine for funds. Smaller outfits had to find their own daily bread; one band of Zionist outlaws, the Stern Gang, made ends meet by robbing banks across the British mandate of Palestine. Founded by Avraham Stern in 1940 as the Irgun Tsvai Leumi or “National Military Organization” (later the Lohamei Herut Israel, “Fighters for the Freedom of Israel,” or Lehi for short) the Stern Gang was criticized for terrorist tactics including assassinating a U.N. mediator and a British government minister for the Middle East. So, robbing banks came naturally.

On September 16, 1940, the Stern Gang staged a daring holdup of the British-owned Anglo-Palestine Bank in Tel Aviv, making off with £4,500 (about $275,000 today). However, a second bank robbery targeting an Arab-owned bank in Jerusalem ended in fiasco, leaving two bank robbers and three other Jewish militants dead. Subsequently the gang carried out successful heists at the Bank Pekao and Mercantile Discount Bank. Their biggest success was a heist targeting the Barclays Bank branch in Tel Aviv in 1948. After trying and failing to tunnel into the bank vaults, they decided on the brute force method: on April 28, 1948, forty Stern gunmen surrounded the bank while a smaller group entered and made off with about $38,000 ($340,000 in today’s money). Asked why the “Freedom Fighters” were stealing from the public, a Stern spokesman reasoned “there’s a war on,” and argued that the gang’s dependence on bank robberies at least proved it wasn’t receiving Soviet support, as some critics alleged.

4. The PLO’s Week-long Bank Robbery

One of the biggest bank heists in history was carried out in January 1976 by bitter enemies --Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organization in alliance with Lebanon’s Christian Phalange -- plus a whole assortment of shady international criminals. Bank heists bring people together!

The odd-couple team wasn’t the only unusual aspect of the robbery, which targeted the international headquarters of the British Bank of the Middle East in Beirut and proceeded at what might be described as a leisurely pace. Under the command of Ali Hassan Salameh (a.k.a. Abu Hassan, the mastermind of the 1972 Munich Olympics attack) on January 20, 1976, a team of PLO operatives gained access to the bank by blasting out the wall from a neighboring church. The PLO crew wasn’t able to open the bank vaults, but with Lebanon paralyzed by a civil war and local law enforcement outgunned (or on the take), they had plenty of time to arrange a workaround.

Salameh’s gunmen occupied the bank and surrounding streets for two days while his international contacts summoned locksmiths employed by the Corsican mob. On January 24, the Corsicans finally broke into the main vault, and the heist team then spent two whole days loading the loot into trucks, including millions of dollars in Lebanese and foreign currency; a veritable mountain of gold bullion; stock certificates and bearer bonds; and jewelry, rare coins and other valuables from individual safety deposit boxes. The total haul was at least £25 million, equaling an incredible $210 million in today’s money, and possibly twice that much, with the Corsicans getting a third and the PLO keeping the rest.

The Corsicans took their share (one truck load) to the Beirut airport, where they loaded it on to a chartered DC-3 airliner and disappeared back into their mob hideouts. After the Corsicans got out of Beirut safely, the PLO loaded their share (three truck loads) into another plane which conveyed them directly to Geneva, Switzerland -- land of the secret bank account. Most of the stocks and bonds were sold back to their original owners for about a third of their face value, allowing savvy owners to collect the insurance and get their property back. These sales netted the PLO another $50 million-$100 million, which was deposited in secret bank accounts in Switzerland, Lebanon, Cyprus, Greece, and West Germany.

5. The Shining Path Takes the Low Path

Founded in 1969 by Abimael Guzman Reynoso, Peru’s Maoist movement, the Sendero Luminoso (“Shining Path”) gained a reputation for unflinching brutality with terrorist attacks in the 1980s: from 1980-2000, Shining Path violence resulted in the deaths of 30,000 Peruvians according to the Peruvian government, not to mention $20 billion in damage, leading Guzman to boast that the Shining Path was fighting “the most economic war on earth.”

With up to 5,000 armed insurgents on the payroll, bank robberies -- sorry, make that “revolutionary expropriations” -- soon became a favorite means of raising funds for their planned revolution in Peru, along with “revolutionary taxes” levied on cocaine traffickers and kidnapping for ransom. In 1981 Shining Path operatives carried out over 50 bank robberies in Lima alone, and the wave of bank robberies continued through the mid-1980s, with 150 robberies across Peru in 1982, as well as international heists in Brazil and Mexico. Although the Shining Path declined following Guzman’s capture in 1993, many of the same tactics (especially bank robberies and taxes on drug dealers) were adopted by other South American terrorist outfits, including Tupac Amaru, which carried out its first major bank heist in Lima in 1982, and the Ecuadoran group AVC, which robbed five banks from 1986-1987.

6. Irish Eyes Aren’t Smiling

Robbing banks may seem like a romantic, victimless crime, but high-profile misdeeds still have a way of generating a lot of bad publicity. The Irish Republic Army found this out following its spectacular heist targeting the Northern Bank headquarters in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on December 20-21, 2004. Some of the bad PR may have been due to the unusually intrusive approach: instead of walking into the bank when it was open, two groups of IRA gunmen kidnapped the bank managers from their homes and held their families hostage at secret locations to ensure their cooperation. With their loved ones in jeopardy, the bank managers went to work the next day as if nothing was out of the ordinary… then stayed on after the close of business to let the team of robbers into the bank that evening. Altogether the robbers made off with currency worth £26.5 million, or about $42 million.

After a public outcry over the cruel method behind the robbery, Sinn Fein (the political arm of the IRA) and the IRA itself both denied responsibility for the bank heist, but Irish and British law enforcement expressed confidence that the IRA was the culprit. The following months saw several million pounds of stolen money recovered, and a number of arrests; however, aside from one conviction for money-laundering, most of the people involved have never been charged with a crime due to lack of evidence.

Here's a Preview of the 70 New Emojis Coming to Your iPhone

Get ready to add a whole new set of symbols to your emoji vocabulary. As CNN reports, Apple has released a sneak peak of some of the 70 new emojis coming to iOS in late 2018.

In February 2018, the Unicode Consortium announced the latest additions to their official emoji database. Software makers have since been working on customizing the designs for their own operating systems, and now iPhone and iPad users are getting a preview of what the new emojis will look like on their devices.

One of the most highly anticipated new symbols is the redhead emoji, something people have been demanding for a while. A curly haired option, another popular request, will be added to the line-up, as will gray-hair and bald emoji choices. Each of the new hair types can be added to the classic face emoji regardless of gender, but when it comes to specific characters like the bride or the jogger emojis, users will be limited to the same hair options they had before.

If Apple users ever want to express their inner superhero, two new super characters, a man and woman, will let them do so. They will also have new "smiley" symbols to choose from, like a party emoji, a sad eyes emoji, and a frozen emoji.

In the food category you have a head of lettuce and a mango, and for dessert, a cupcake and a mooncake—a festive Chinese pastry. New animals include a peacock, a kangaroo, and a lobster. The lobster emoji stirred some controversy in February when Mainers noticed the Unicode version was missing a set of legs. The design was quickly revised, and Apple's version is also anatomically correct.

These images just show a small sample of the emojis that will be included in an iOS update planned for later in 2018. Users will have to wait to see the final designs for other the symbols on the list.

New Apple emojis.

New Apple emojis.

New Apple emojis.

New Apple emojis.

[h/t CNN]

© TM & DC Comics/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
19 Surprising Facts About The Dark Knight
© TM & DC Comics/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
© TM & DC Comics/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Christopher Nolan didn’t set out to make sequels. As the director of hit thrillers like Memento and Insomnia, his personal style never seemed to mesh with the idea of helming a mega-franchise. After reenvisioning the Caped Crusader with 2005’s Batman Begins, though, Nolan couldn’t stop thinking about how his version of Batman would respond to the introduction of The Joker. The result was The Dark Knight, a hyper-real exploration of how chaos shakes up the mission of the righteous, complete with huge stars, incredible stunts, and an Oscar-winning performance by the late Heath Ledger. To revisit this landmark movie, which was released 10 years ago, here are 19 fascinating facts about The Dark Knight.


While it doesn’t adapt any one specific story to the screen, The Dark Knight did draw inspiration from several specific Batman stories in the pages of DC Comics. When researching and writing the film, director Christopher Nolan and his brother, co-writer Jonathan Nolan, specifically went back to The Joker’s very first appearance in 1940’s Batman #1 in search of how best to introduce the character. Co-writer David S. Goyer, himself a DC Comics contributor, also cites the classic stories The Long Halloween, The Dark Knight Returns, and The Killing Joke as keys to his research, with elements from each making their way into the film.


Heath Ledger in 'The Dark Knight' (2008)
© TM & DC Comics/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

In addition to classic Joker stories like The Killing Joke, Nolan and star Heath Ledger drew on a diverse array of influences both in and out of comics to craft the film’s version of the Clown Prince of Crime. Before attempting to write the character, the Nolan brothers revisited Fritz Lang’s classic film The Testament of Dr. Mabuse as a study in how to write supervillains. Visually, Nolan also specifically cited the work of painter Francis Bacon as a touchstone for Joker’s distorted view of the world.

As for Ledger, he famously locked himself away in a hotel room for weeks, experimenting with voices and mannerisms until he developed something he was satisfied with. Among his inspirations: Sex Pistols icons Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious and the anarchist character Alex from Stanley Kubrick’s classic film A Clockwork Orange.


The Dark Knight is the first Christopher Nolan film to be a sequel, and though Batman Begins ends with Gordon handing Batman the Joker card as a kind of setup for the next film, the director wasn't exactly determined to return to Gotham City. Nolan and Goyer had ideas for how a trilogy of films would happen, of course, but after Batman Begins hit big, Nolan instead went off to make magician drama The Prestige. Ultimately, the lure of telling a Joker story proved too enticing for Nolan to pass up, and he eventually re-teamed with Goyer to begin mapping out the story that would become The Dark Knight

“I didn’t have any intention of making a sequel to Batman Begins and I was quite surprised to find myself wanting to do it,” Nolan told Empire Magazine. “I just got caught up in the process of imagining how you would see a character like The Joker through the prism of what we did in the first film.”


Though other stars like Adrien Brody expressed an interest in playing the film’s key villain, Heath Ledger was the only name on Nolan’s wish list.

“When I heard he was interested in the Joker, there was never any doubt. You could just see it in his eyes,” Nolan told Newsweek. “People were a little baffled by the choice, it's true, but I've never had such a simple decision as a director.” 


Because of the actor’s untimely death in January 2008, at the age of just 28, Ledger's performance as The Joker has been somewhat mythologized by fans, so the idea that he kept a secret “Joker diary” while getting into character might sound apocryphal. In fact, Ledger really did make a diary while preparing to play the character. It included various clipped art (Alex from A Clockwork Orange figures heavily), stylized notes, and even lines from the script recopied in his own handwriting. In 2013, Ledger’s father Kim revealed the diary in a documentary, and noted that his son did immersive work like this for every role but “really took it up a notch” for The Joker.


For the role of Bruce Wayne’s childhood friend and current Gotham City assistant district attorney Rachel Dawes, Nolan had to look for a replacement. Katie Holmes played the role in 2005’s Batman Begins, but opted out of the sequel ostensibly so she could act in the comedy Mad Money. So Nolan went in search of other actresses and ultimately decided on Maggie Gyllenhaal for the role. Gyllenhaal was the final choice, but she wasn’t the only one. Other actresses up for the role included Rachel McAdams and Emily Blunt.


For many actors, the prospect of starring in a sequel to a hit film is a major draw. For others, the prospect of finally being a part of a Batman film would do the trick. For Gyllenhaal, who stepped in as Rachel Dawes, there was only one key reason to say yes: Christopher Nolan.

“When Chris approached me about the film, it was almost incidental that it was about Batman,” Gyllenhaal said. “I was lured into becoming intrigued by the character through the process of making the movie. From the very beginning, Chris was so interesting and engaging—and so interested in me and my ideas about Rachel—that I wanted to be a part of it.”


Though The Dark Knight is unquestionably a Batman movie, Nolan and company didn’t consider the Caped Crusader to be the film’s main character.

“Bruce Wayne was the protagonist of the first film,” Goyer said, “but we decided early on that he would not be the protagonist of the second film—that, in fact, Harvey Dent would be.”

To that end, finding the right actor to play Gotham’s district attorney was crucial. Nolan ultimately chose Aaron Eckhart, who reminded him of Robert Redford, to play the part, but Eckhart wasn’t the only star considered. Other potential Harvey Dents included Matt Damon, Mark Ruffalo, and Ryan Phillippe.


Batman fans weren’t the only skeptics when it came to Nolan’s decision to deliver a new cinematic Joker. Michael Caine, who played Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler Alfred, was very apprehensive when  Nolan told him The Dark Knight’s villain would indeed be the Clown Prince of Crime, namely because Jack Nicholson’s performance as the character in 1989’s Batman still cast a very large shadow.

“You don’t try and top Jack,” Caine said.

When Nolan informed Caine that Ledger had been cast in the role, though, the film legend came around.

“I thought: ‘Now that’s the one guy that could do it!’ [laughs] My confidence came back. And then when I did this sequence with Heath, I knew we were in for some really good stuff.


Nolan deliberately resisted the idea of giving The Joker an origin story in the film, opting instead to portray him as a force of pure anarchy with no discernible motivation other than chaos. For this reason, the character’s scarred face—as opposed to the chemically-induced frozen grin given to the character’s previous movie incarnation—had no clear source. In fact, the character deliberately tells different stories to different characters to explain where the scars came from. As a result, prosthetics supervisor Conor O’Sullivan was driven to take inspiration for the scars from real life. So, he used an actual man on the street as a reference.

“I immediately thought of the punk and skinhead era and some unsavory characters I had come across during this time,” O'Sullivan recalled. “The terminology for this type of wound is a ‘Glasgow’ or ‘Chelsea smile.’ My references had to be real. A delivery of fruit machines was made to the estate near my workshop and the man delivering them had a ‘Chelsea smile.' I plucked up the courage to ask him for a photo and he told me the story of how he had got his scars while being involved with “a dog fight”; needless to say I didn't pursue the matter, but the photos proved to be very useful reference.”


One of the most identifiable characteristics of Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker is the way he almost constantly licks his lips inside and out, probing his scars with his tongue over and over again. It adds energy to the character as well as a certain menacing quality, but it apparently was not planned. According to dialect coach Gerry Grennell, who worked with Ledger on the film, that tic arose because the scar prosthetics—which extended into Ledger’s mouth—would loosen as he performed. So, he licked his lips repeatedly in an effort to keep them in place.

"The last thing that Heath wanted to do was go back and spend another 20 minutes or half hour trying to get the lips glued back again, so he licked his lips. A lot,” Grennell recalled. “And then slowly, that became a part of the character.


Though IMAX cameras are now on the verge of being used to shoot entire feature films, at the time The Dark Knight was made, the format was primarily used for documentary films to showcase things like the wondrous detail of nature. Nolan had longed for years to bring the format to features, and opted to use the ultra-heavy, ultra-expensive cameras to film several major sequences in The Dark Knight. Most famously, the film’s prologue—featuring The Joker’s bank robbery—was filmed on IMAX and released early, in its entirety, as a teaser.


For the scene in which Bruce Wayne is hosting a fundraiser for Harvey Dent in his elegant Gotham City townhouse, Ledger and a group of Joker goons were meant to burst into the party via the elevator. Caine, as Alfred, was supposed to be there waiting to greet guests as the elevator doors opened, only to be frightened by the appearance of The Joker. Caine was there waiting, the elevator doors opened, and he was apparently so frightened by what he saw that any lines he was meant to deliver during the scene completely left his mind.

"I was waiting for Batman's guests, but (the Joker) had taken over the elevator with—he has seven dwarfs and ... oh! wait until you see them,” he said while promoting the film. “So, I'd never seen any of it and the elevator door opened and they came out and I forgot every bloody line. They frightened the bloody life out of me.”


Embracing the hyperrealism of his version of Batman, Nolan opted to do many of The Dark Knight’s biggest stunts practically rather than relying on CGI. That includes arguably the biggest and most visually staggering stunt in the film: When Batman uses steel cables to flip The Joker’s 18-wheeler trailer over cab in the middle of a Gotham street. While another filmmaker might have opted to recreate the moment with computers or models, Nolan wanted to do it for real, on a real Chicago street. The task of pulling it off fell to special effects supervisor Chris Corbould, who ran tests in a more isolated area to ensure the flip wouldn’t harm any member of the crew or any neighboring buildings. With the tests successful, the production was primed to film the stunt … though Corbould still tried to talk Nolan into scaling it down.

“It was a funny thing—and this is always the way working with Chris—where he kept trying to talk me into a smaller vehicle,” Nolan said. “He said, ‘Can't it be one of those SWAT vans, not an articulated truck?!’ I kind of went along with that for a while and we storyboarded it that way and kept talking about it. And I finally just went to him and said, ‘Chris, you can do this, you're fine. It's gotta be a huge truck, it's gotta be a big 18-wheeler,’ and he went ‘Oh, all right,’ in that way he does, and he figured out a way to do it. Nobody had ever done it before and it was really a pretty amazing thing to watch."


One of the most beautiful shots in the film finds Batman, cape billowing around him, perched atop Chicago’s Sears Tower as he surveys his city. It’s a gorgeous image, but also one that easily could have been carried out by a stuntman so Bale didn’t have to take the risk. The star was having none of that. When he found out his stuntman Buster Reeves was preparing to perform the perch, Bale rushed to convince Nolan that he should be the one to stand 110 stories above Chicago for the helicopter shot. 

“It was important for me to do that shot,” Bale explained, “because I wanted to be able to say I did it. 

Bale also opted to perform a similar stunt in which Batman stands on a ledge of the IFC2 building in Hong Kong. By then, he was quite comfortable with the height. 


One of the great visual hallmarks of Nolan’s Batman films is the introduction of the Batpod, The Dark Knight’s sleek motorcycle. While it may look like an oversized version of any other bike, the pod didn’t handle the same way, so a specially trained stunt driver was required. Jean-Pierre Goy was the man. He took to the vehicle immediately and trained for months to master the high-speed sequences required for the film. Bale, who was more than willing to volunteer to drive the Batpod, was ultimately only able to ride it when it was attached to camera rigs.

“Jean-Pierre was the only one who could master it,” Bale admitted. “Everybody else just fell off instantly.”


For the scene in which The Joker sneaks into a panicked Gotham hospital to see Harvey Dent, Ledger dressed up in a nurse’s uniform. If you look closely, you’ll see that the nurse’s name tag reads “Matilda.” Matilda is Ledger’s daughter, who was born in 2005.


When The Joker and his goons crash Bruce Wayne’s fundraising party, almost everyone in the room is intimidated into silence. One man, though, is not. He tells The Joker “we’re not intimidated by thugs,” and The Joker then grabs him and holds a knife to his mouth. That man is Patrick Leahy, the Democratic U.S. Senator from Vermont. A lifelong comic book fan, Leahy has appeared in five Batman films to date, including 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, where he sat alongside actress Holly Hunter in a congressional hearing.


Weird lawsuits surrounding major motion pictures are nothing new, but The Dark Knight inspired a particularly strange one. In late 2008, after the film had opened to rapturous critical acclaim and enormous box office success, Huseyin Kalkan—the mayor of Batman, Turkey—sued Nolan and Warner Brothers for what he deemed a negative impact the film had caused on his city.

"There is only one Batman in the world. The American producers used the name of our city without informing us."

Needless to say, given that Batman is still as popular as ever, the suit didn’t go anywhere.

Additional Source:
The Art and Making of The Dark Knight Trilogy, by Jody Duncan Jesser and Janine Pourroy


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