Sierra Leone experienced widespread panic following series of coordinated attacks on Sunday that targeted a military barracks, a prison, and other strategic locations, resulting in 20 fatalities and the escape of almost 2,000 inmates. The Government attributed the violence to “renegade soldiers,” sparking heightened tensions in a country still in the process of recovery from a brutal civil war.
Among the almost 2,000 escapees from the central prison, 155 were serving life sentences, and 831 were categorized as “long-term” convicts. Foreign nationals accounted for 20 individuals, with 10 convicted and the rest either on remand or awaiting trial. Additionally, 253 were on remand, while 347 were under trial, with numerous others serving shorter sentences. Two inmates were under “safe custody.” As of Monday, only 23 had returned, according to prison officials.
The attacks reportedly commenced in the early hours of Sunday morning, as gunmen launched coordinated assaults on the Wilberforce military barracks, the Pademba Road central prison and the Eastern Police Station in Freetown, the capital city. The city resonated with heavy gunfire during the violent clashes between the attackers and security forces.
Colonel Issa Bangura, an army spokesman, confirmed that casualties included 13 soldiers, three assailants, a Police Officer, a civilian and a private security guard. Eight others sustained injuries and three suspects were apprehended during the chaos.
President Julius Maada Bio addressed the nation, assuring the public that the situation was being managed, with most of the assailants already in custody. To restore calm and aid security operations, a curfew was imposed on Sunday from 18:00 hrs to 06:00 GMT and shifted on Monday to 2100 to 0600 GMT.
The recent attacks have exacerbated existing tensions in Sierra Leone, still grappling with the aftermath of a devastating civil war that claimed over 50,000 lives between 1991 and 2002.
Political unrest has prevailed since Bio’s disputed re-election in June, raising concerns among international partners like the United States and the European Union. Prior unrest in August 2022 saw at least 21 civilians and six police officers killed during anti-government protests.
The Government has urged escaped prisoners to return to custody and has offered rewards for information leading to the apprehension of the attackers. Authorities are actively investigating the motives behind the assaults and the identities of those involved.