Senior Sierra Leonean officials said on Tuesday (November 28) that the unrest which left 21 dead on Sunday in Freetown was the result of a new coup attempt in West Africa, involving soldiers and guards of former President Ernest Bai Koroma.

However, the instigators of the coup which shook the capital on Sunday and also released thousands of detainees from prison have not been identified and no link has been established at this stage with Mr. Koroma, predecessor between 2007 and 2018 of the current head of state, Julius Maada Bio, they indicated. These officials provided the press with the most detailed account to date of the unrest that occurred on Sunday, the nature of which the authorities had until then been careful not to describe.

They also reaffirmed that the authorities were in control of the situation, while shots, fired according to them during the arrest of a suspect, once again caused fear in the capital on Tuesday. “We have opened an investigation into a failed coup attempt,” said police chief William Fayia Sellu. “A group of people tried to overthrow the ruling power using force,” he said.

In the early hours of Sunday, men attacked a military armory, two other barracks, two prisons and two police stations, confronting security forces with guns drawn. Fighting left 21 dead, including 14 soldiers, a police officer, a prison guard, a security guard, a woman and three attackers, said Information Minister Chernor Bah.

“Great reward.”

More than 2,200 inmates have been released from prison, including 124 who have since returned, said Colonel Sheikh Sulaiman Massaquoi, head of the prison service.

Thirteen soldiers and one civilian suspected of being involved in the coup are in detention, the information minister said. Authorities said they were conducting a “manhunt” for other suspects.

Police on Tuesday released the photos and names of 32 men and 2 women wanted as “fugitives,” including active and retired soldiers and police officers. And promised a “great reward” to anyone who provides information leading to their capture.

A significant number of rebels are former guards of ex-president Ernest Bai Koroma, revealed the chief of staff, Lieutenant General Peter Lavahun. He cited the investigations still underway to refrain from commenting on the involvement of Mr. Koroma. He also recognized that the ringleaders remained to be identified.

Officials said, as photos circulating on social media suggested, that a former member of Mr. Koroma’s bodyguard was among those killed.

ECOWAS “ready”

Mr. Koroma, who lives in the capital, condemned the violence in a statement on Sunday, and reported that a corporal assigned to his guard had been shot and killed within the perimeter of his residence.

Officials acknowledged that, contrary to initial government statements, the rebels had managed to get their hands on weapons. Security services recovered two vehicles with rocket launchers and automatic rifles on the outskirts of Freetown, they added. But they admitted that they did not know what was still in nature.

These events immediately aroused fear of a new coup d’état in West Africa which, since 2020, has experienced one in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Guinea, all among the 15 member countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), like Sierra Leone. The Sierra Leonean head of state received on Monday a high-level delegation from ECOWAS and Nigeria, a heavyweight in the region which currently holds the presidency of the organization, according to images released by his services on Tuesday.

ECOWAS said it was ready to deploy “regional elements if necessary” in Sierra Leone, said the president of the West African bloc Commission, Omar Alieu Touray, without specifying which “elements” he was talking about. The Sierra Leonean information minister, however, assured that at this stage, Freetown was not requesting such a deployment.