In Sierra Leone, the government declares a national curfew after an attack on an armory in Freetown

Armed clashes shook the Sierra Leonean capital Freetown on Sunday (November 26), where still unknown assailants attempted to break into a military armory and take many detainees out of prison, prompting the government to decree a curfew throughout the country.

“The government remains in control and is in control of the situation,” assured the Ministry of Information in a statement published on social networks. He said security forces had pushed those responsible for the armed clashes to the outskirts of Freetown. “Calm reigns in most of the city, which is under the control of the security forces,” he further stressed.

Access to the center of Freetown was blocked by a massive deployment of security forces, noted an Agence France-Presse correspondent. However, the gunfire appeared to have stopped by midday at least in some parts of the city.

Calls not to go out

The government said individuals had attempted to storm the armory at Wilberforce barracks, one of the country’s main barracks. “They were all pushed back,” according to the Ministry of Information.

“A national curfew is being imposed with immediate effect across the country to allow security forces to continue searching for suspects,” he continued.

“We strongly advise our fellow citizens to stay at home,” he added, a call echoed by the European Union and the representation of the United Kingdom.

Clashes were then reported near Morray Town barracks, where the Navy is located, and at other points in the capital. Videos posted on social networks showed groups of men, but also women, presented as detainees, walking away into the streets, some with meager belongings in their hands.

The government acknowledged that the guards had been overwhelmed by the attackers and had preferred to carry out a “tactical retreat.”

Specter of a coup attempt

The government has said nothing about the attackers. The nature of the events remains unclear, even if they raise the specter of a new coup attempt in West Africa which has seen a series of them since 2020.

The government has denied one of the many rumors circulating in the tense city, namely an attempt to take control of national television, a classic of coups.

State television broadcast the government’s message assuring that the situation was under control. “We remain committed to protecting democracy in Sierra Leone and I urge all Sierra Leoneans to unite around this collective responsibility,” President Julius Maada Bio said on X in the morning, before remaining silent.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) expressed its support for the government in place, and called for the arrest of those responsible for the events. “ECOWAS reiterates its principle of zero tolerance for unconstitutional changes of government,” she said.

She spoke in a press release of trying to get hold of weapons from the armory, but also of “disturbing the peace and constitutional order”, language commonly used for political power grabs. The local representation of the European Union said it was “worried” and called for “respecting the constitutional order”.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the attempted forced seizure overnight of the Wilberforce barracks and armory,” responded the United States Embassy in a message on social media. “The United States continues to support all those working toward a peaceful, democratic, healthy, and prosperous Sierra Leone. »

Julius Maada, elected for the first time in 2018, was re-elected in June in the first round, with 56.17% of the votes according to the results published by the electoral commission, but contested by the opposition.