FREETOWN, Nov 26 Sierra Leone has declared a nationwide curfew after unidentified gunmen attacked a military barracks and attempted to break into an armoury in the capital, Freetown, the government said on Sunday.
A government statement said the security forces were in control of the situation.
“In the early hours of Sunday, some unidentified individuals attempted to break into the military armoury at the Wilberforce barracks. The have been rebuffed,” Information Minister Chernor Bah said in the statement.
“A nationwide curfew has been declared with immediate effect … We strongly advise citizens to stay indoors,” the statement added.
A senior official who requested anonymity told Reuters that the central prison in Freetown was open and some inmates had escaped. The prison, designed to hold 324 inmates, held over 2,000 in 2019, according to a U.S. State Department report.
It was not clear how many had broken out of the facility, but videos shared on social media showed several people fleeing from the area of the prison, while gun shots could be heard in the background.
The political situation in the West African nation has remained tense since the re-election of President Julius Maada Bio in a disputed election in June, the result of which was rejected by the main opposition candidate.
In a message on the president’s X social media account on Sunday, he said there had been a breach of security as some unidentified individuals attacked the military armoury.
“As the combined team of our security forces continue to route out the remnants of the fleeing renegades, a nationwide curfew has been declared and citizens are encouraged to stay indoors,” the post said.
There have been eight military coups in West and Central Africa since 2020, delivering repeated blows to democracy in a region.
The Economic Community of West African States condemned what it called an attempt by certain individuals to “acquire arms and disturb constitutional order” in Sierra Leone. The U.S. embassy in Freetown said in a statement such actions were not justified.
Sporadic gunfire could still be heard in the empty streets of Freetown near the barracks on Sunday, said a Reuters reporter who encountered a group of the renegade soldiers.
“We’ll clean this society. We know what we are up to. We are not after any ordinary civilians who should go about their normal business,” said one of the masked men in military fatigues before driving away.
Heavy gunfire in the #SierraLeone capital, Freetown. The sounds appear to be coming from the main military barracks at Wilberforce, close to the president’s lodge. Details are sketchy but a senior military source says there has been a breakage into the armory at Wilberforce.
— Umaru Fofana (@UmaruFofana) November 26, 2023