The authorities of Sierra Leone declared a curfew throughout the country this Sunday, November 26, after armed men attacked the Wilberforce military barracks, the main and largest in the nation, located in the capital. In addition, the attackers broke into several detention centers and released prisoners from one of the prisons. After what happened, the civil aviation authority urged airlines to reschedule their flights for when the curfew is lifted.
This Sunday, November 26, in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, was the scene of surprising attacks. The Government declared a curfew for the entire country, after a group of assailants, still unidentified, attacked the military armory of the Wilberforce barracks during the early hours of the morning.
In a statement, Information Minister Chernor Bah explained that the curfew was declared “to allow security forces to continue the process of arresting the suspects.”
“We strongly recommend citizens to stay at home,” the official stressed.
The Sierra Leonean president, Julius Maada Bio, spoke out on this matter on his X account and stated that he will continue to protect Sierra Leone’s democracy and urged his compatriots to unite around that “collective responsibility.”
Fellow Sierra Leoneans,
I bring you greetings from the Presidential Lodge in Freetown.
In the early hours of this morning, there was a breach of security at the Military Barracks at Wilberforce in Freetown, as some unidentified individuals attacked the military armory.…
— President Julius Maada Bio (@PresidentBio) November 26, 2023
For his part, Interior Minister David Taluva, speaking to the Reuters news agency, stated that the retreating assailants had attacked a police barracks after running out of ammunition and had taken more weapons from police officers.
Attackers free prisoners from jail
Detention centres, including the Pademba Road prisons, which house more than 2,000 inmates, were also raided just as security forces struggled to restore calm during sustained gunfights at the main army barracks, according to the information minister. , Chernor Bah.
“Prisons were invaded and some prisoners were kidnapped by the attackers, while many others were released (…) The public is assured that the Government and our state security forces are in control,” Bah later said.
According to Reuters journalists, hours later gunshots could still be heard in some neighborhoods of the capital, while residents sought refuge in their homes.
Given what happened, Sierra Leone’s civil aviation authority on Sunday urged airlines to reschedule their flights until the curfew is lifted. In a statement, the organization assured that passengers should be relocated to future flights after the measure imposed by the emergency is repealed.
Tension has increased in Sierra Leone politics since President Bio was re-elected in June this year; his victory was rejected by the main opposition candidate.
“We will clean up this society. We know what we are doing. We are not looking for ordinary civilians who must go about their normal activities,” said one of the masked men in military uniform before walking away.
On condition of anonymity, a senior Sierra Leonean government official told Reuters that the attackers also attacked the central prison in Freetown, leading to the escape of some inmates. The penitentiary center is designed to house 324 inmates and by 2019, it had more than 2,000 according to a report from the United States Department of State.
It is still unclear how many prisoners escaped, but amateur videos circulating on social media show several people fleeing the prison area, while gunshots are heard in the background. The authenticity of the videos has not yet been verified.
The country and the region in constant instability
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) assured that this Sunday’s incident is a plot “to acquire weapons and disturb the peace and constitutional order” of the Sierra Leonean territory.
The bloc of countries has had to face in recent months an increase in coups d’état in West and Central Africa, a region in which there have been eight seizures of power by military forces since 2020, including Niger and Gabon. the most recent ones.
“ECOWAS reiterates its zero tolerance for unconstitutional changes of government,” the bloc said in a statement.
Bio was re-elected in the country’s fifth presidential election after the end of a civil war that lasted 11 years (1991-2002) and left more than 50,000 people dead and hundreds maimed.
After the president won re-election, two months later the country’s police said they arrested several people – including senior military officers – who, according to the institution, planned to use the protests to “undermine the peace” of the country.
In turn, an anti-government protest in August last year led to the deaths of more than 30 people, including six police officers.
The president constantly faces criticism for the country’s weak economic conditions. Nearly 60% of Sierra Leone’s population lives in poverty and the youth unemployment rate is one of the highest in all of West Africa.
With AP and Reuters
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