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.
President Julius Maada Bio said on Sunday, following armed clashes in Freetown, that most of the leaders have been arrested and security operations and investigations are ongoing 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.
Sierra Leone’s civil aviation authority also urged the airlines to reschedule flights. Reports said calm was slowly returning to the capital by Sunday evening but checkpoints heavily guarded by security forces remained in place.
Videos posted on social media appeared to show men in uniform under arrest in the back or beside a military pickup truck. Earlier in the day, witnesses said 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. It said the prisons were overrun,” with some detainees released and others “abducted. A 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 (ECOWAS), condemned the attempt to “disturb constitutional order” in Sierra Leone.
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.
Since his electoral victory five months ago, Bio has continued to face criticism because of debilitating economic conditions.
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, Guinea and Gabon.