According to a government spokesman on Tuesday, November 28, 2023, the attacks on Sierra Leone’s primary military barracks and prisons were an attempt at a coup that failed, and 13 military officers were taken into custody.
At a press conference on Sunday, November 26, 2023, Information Minister Chernor Bah stated that the assailants sought to “overthrow the elected government of Sierra Leone.” The attacks occurred early in the morning, surprising both the security forces and locals in the normally tranquil capital city of Freetown.
“At present, thirteen military officers and one civilian are under custody. We are now referring to this incident as a botched coup,” Bah stated.
A coup attempt in Sierra Leone, which occurred months after President Julius Maada Bio was controversially reelected to a second term in June, exacerbates political unrest throughout West and Central Africa. Eight military takeovers have occurred in the region since 2020, including this year’s coups in Niger and Gabon.
Heavy gunfire woke up Freetown residents on Sunday morning as gunmen broke into the main armory of the nation’s biggest military barracks, which is situated close to the presidential residence in a heavily guarded area of the city.
The attackers, numbering in the dozens, also targeted two prisons in the city, Col. Sulaiman Massaquoi, acting head of the Sierra Leone Correctional Service, said. This included the central prison, where the majority of the over 2,000 inmates were released.
According to the information minister, over 100 of the released prisoners have returned to the prisons amid a manhunt for evading suspects. A civilian was also detained in relation to the attack.
As security personnel attempted to apprehend one of the evading suspects on Tuesday, gunshots could be heard throughout the capital. The information ministry released a statement saying, “The person of interest has been arrested and is currently in custody of the security forces.”
According to Lt. Gen. Peter Lavahun, the Chief of Defense Staff, many of the attackers were still at large and either in hiding or on the run throughout the nation.
He stated that although there was no closed-circuit television (CCTV) in the armory, officials were still verifying the quantity of weapons taken. “We were able to recover two vehicles containing arms and ammunition that were carted away,” Lavahun said.
Much of the population in Freetown and throughout the nation stayed inside on Tuesday, over a day after the government converted a 24-hour curfew to an overnight lockdown.
Political unrest has been present in Sierra Leone ever since Bio was reelected in a vote that the opposition claims was manipulated to benefit him. According to police, they detained a number of people two months after he was reelected, including senior military officers who were preparing to use protests “to undermine peace.”
Adjacent Despite a coup in 2021, Guinea’s political situation is still unstable. After an 11-year civil war that ended more than 20 years ago, Sierra Leone is still recovering. With eight million residents, it has one of the lowest living standards in the world.
Sierra Leone is a member of the West African regional economic bloc known as ECOWAS, which condemned the attacks and dispatched a delegation to “extend their support and solidarity” to the president of the nation.