Sierra Leone has arrested most of the leaders of an armed attack in the capital that has prompted the government to declare a nationwide curfew, the country’s president has said.
“Most of the leaders have been arrested. Security operations and investigations are ongoing,” President Julius Maada Bio said on national television on Sunday following armed clashes in Freetown after what the government said was an attack on a military armoury.
The government said it repelled the attack and was in control of the situation.
The incident occurred amid months of post-election unrest in the West African nation.The “government is in firm control of the security situation in Freetown, the attackers are retreating”, information minister Chernor Bah told the AFP news agency.
Sierra Leone’s civil aviation authority also urged the airlines to reschedule flights.An AFP journalist said calm was slowly returning to the capital by Sunday evening but checkpoints heavily guarded by security forces remained in place.
“We are trying to collate the number of arrests and casualties,” Bah said, adding that “those responsible for today’s attack will be hunted down to face the full force of the law”.
Videos posted on social media appeared to show men in uniform under arrest in the back or beside a military pick-up truck.
Earlier in the day, witnesses told AFP they heard gunshots and explosions in the city’s Wilberforce district, where the armoury and some embassies are located.Other witnesses reported exchanges of fire near a barracks in the Murray Town district, home to the navy, and outside another military site in Freetown.
The information ministry reported attacks on prisons earlier in the day that obliged the security forces to retreat.
“The prisons were thus overrun” with some detainees released and others “abducted”, it said.Video posted on social networks suggested numerous prisoners had escaped from the central jail.In a statement issued on Sunday, West Africa’s regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States, condemned the attempt to “disturb constitutional order” in Sierra Leone.
Growing unrest since President’s re-election
Sierra Leone has seen political violence and unrest since the re-election of President Bio in June.That election was the fifth since the end of Sierra Leone’s brutal 11-year civil war – more than two decades ago – which left tens of thousands dead and destroyed the country’s economy.
International observers condemned the “lack of transparency” in the ballot count and Sierra Leone’s opposition party initially disputed the results and boycotted the government.
Since his electoral victory five months ago, Bio continues to face criticism because of debilitating economic conditions. Nearly 60% of Sierra Leone’s population of more than 7-million are impoverished and youth unemployment is among the highest in West Africa.
The unrest in Sierra Leone comes after a series of military coups that have dealt blows to democracy in the region. There have been eight military coups in West and Central Africa since 2020, including in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Guinea.