Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio declared a return to calm after a day of armed clashes in Freetown, characterizing the turmoil as an attempt to disrupt the nation’s stability. He affirmed that most of the perpetrators involved in the incidents have been apprehended.
In a televised address, President Bio assured the nation that “calm has been restored” following what he termed as efforts to undermine the hard-earned peace and stability in the country. The tumultuous day witnessed unidentified assailants attempting to breach a military arsenal in Freetown, engaging security forces in various parts of the capital, and facilitating the escape of numerous prisoners from detention facilities.
In response to the situation, authorities imposed a nationwide curfew until further notice. President Bio mentioned that “most of the instigators have been captured” and stressed that they would be held accountable. However, specific details regarding the arrests were not disclosed. Information Minister Chernor Bah affirmed that the government has firm control over the security situation in Freetown, where a fragile calm has been restored. Nevertheless, substantial security checkpoints remained in place across the city.
Official casualty figures from the violence have not yet been released. Videos circulated on social media depict individuals in uniforms seemingly detained near a military vehicle. Unverified reports on social media alleged the involvement of a former member of ex-President Ernest Bai Koroma’s security detail, reportedly killed during the clashes.
Civil aviation authorities directed airlines to reschedule flights after the curfew’s lifting, reassuring that airspace operations were unaffected. The recent events revived concerns about potential coup attempts in the West African region, which has witnessed similar incidents in neighboring countries like Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Guinea since 2020.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) labeled the event an attempt to seize weaponry from the arsenal, hinting at a disturbance to peace and constitutional order, terminology often associated with political coups. The European Union’s local representation expressed apprehension and emphasized the importance of upholding constitutional norms.
Sierra Leone, an English-speaking nation, grappled with a political crisis post-disputed elections in June 2023. The country, facing severe economic challenges as one of the world’s poorest nations, woke up to the sound of gunfire, causing panic and disruption in Freetown.
The government confirmed an assault attempt on the Wilberforce barracks arsenal, thwarted by security forces. A widespread curfew ensued, rendering Freetown’s streets nearly deserted, as observed in aerial footage captured by AFP.
The attackers also targeted the central prison, facilitating the escape of detainees. However, the government refuted rumors of an attempted takeover of national television. President Bio strongly condemned the effort to seize the Wilberforce barracks and expressed condemnation from the US embassy.
ECOWAS voiced support for the incumbent government, urging the apprehension of those accountable for the events. “ECOWAS reiterates its principle of zero tolerance for unconstitutional changes of government,” it stated. President Bio, initially elected in 2018 and re-elected in June amid contested election results, remains at the helm of the nation.