Freetown, Nov 26 (EFE). – Sierra Leone is in a state of alarm and confusion on Sunday after unidentified gunmen attacked an important army barracks and several prisons in the capital Freetown, prompting the government to impose a nationwide curfew.
The gunmen attacked the Wilberforce Barracks, one of the largest in the West African country and the main army barracks, on Sunday morning, sparking gun battles.
“In the early hours of Sunday, some unidentified individuals attempted to break into the military armory at the Wilberforce barracks. They have been rebuffed,” said the Sierra Leonean Minister of Information and Civic Education, Chernor Bah in a statement.
“The public is assured that the government and our state security forces are in control,” Bah stressed.
He also announced that “to enable the security forces to continue the process of apprehending the suspects, a nationwide curfew is declared with immediate effect across the country.”
“The PEACE of our beloved NATION is PRICELESS and we will continue to protect the peace and security of Sierra Leone against the forces that wish to truncate our much cherished stability,” President Julius Maada Bio said on his X social networking account.
In the afternoon, however, the government admitted in a new statement that security forces were still battling the attackers, who had been pushed back to the outskirts of the city.
The president then declared, “As the combined team of our security forces continues to route out [sic] the remnants of the fleeing renegades, a nationwide curfew has been declared and citizens are encouraged to stay indoors.”
The government also confirmed that major detention centers, including Pademba Road Prison, were attacked and security forces were forced to make a tactical retreat to protect the lives of civilians (including prisoners).
Videos shared on social media show several inmates escaping from the prison on Pademba Road in Freetown, including one which allegedly shows popular rapper Boss LAJ, who was jailed last year for robbery, walking free.
The Ministry of Information also clarified that the public broadcaster, SLBC, was not under fire nor under siege, denying information circulating on social networks to the contrary.
“The director general of the SLBC is doing his job and has not been arrested,” the statement added, reiterating that “the government is in control.”
The government did not clarify who was behind the attacks, although local media reported that soldiers had been arrested for attempting to attack the military barracks.
The attack on the barracks was condemned by the United States, the European Union (EU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the United Kingdom, among others.
“The EU calls for respect for the constitutional order,” the EU delegation in Freetown said in a statement, stressing that “there is no justification for the violent seizure of military barracks.”
For its part, ECOWAS, based in Abuja, Nigeria, condemned “the plot by certain individuals to acquire arms and disturb the peace and constitutional order in Sierra Leone” and called for “the arrest and prosecution of all those involved in this illegal act.”
The regional bloc of fifteen countries, including Sierra Leone, reiterated its “zero tolerance for unconstitutional changes of government” in a statement.
The event came after authorities reported on July 31 that police had detained an unspecified number of soldiers who were planning to use peaceful protests as a pretext for attacks on state institutions.
Sierra Leone held elections on June 24 in which Bio won a second five-year term with 56.17% of the vote, although the opposition challenged the results.