Sierra Leone authorities treating Sunday's deadly clashes as failed coup

Wednesday November 29 2023

Police Forces guard the entrance to the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation in Freetown, Sierra Leone on November 27, 2023. PHOTO | AFP


Sierra Leonean authorities were treating clashes that killed 21 people in the capital Freetown at the weekend as a failed coup attempt, officials told reporters on Tuesday.

Freetown residents woke up to gunfire and explosions on Sunday and experienced several hours of armed confrontation between security forces and armed assailants who attempted to break into a military armoury.

"We did investigate an attempted coup which failed in the early hours of the November 26", William Fayia Sellu said, adding that "a group of people" had tried to illegally "unseat" the government with force.

Read: Sierra Leone curfew partially lifted, manhunt continues

Authorities said Tuesday that the situation was under control, explaining that shots fired during the day which had briefly sparked consternation in the capital, had come during the arrest of a suspect.

The central prison and several police stations were stormed during the Sunday violence.


More than 2,200 prisoners escaped of whom 124 have been recaptured, said Colonel Sheikh Sulaiman Massaquoi, head of penitentiary services.

'Failed attempted coup?'

"The state security and intelligence forces tell me now the November 26 incidents might be a failed attempted coup," Communications Minister Chernor Bah told reporters on Tuesday, adding investigations were ongoing.

"The intention of these people might be to illegally subvert and overthrow the democratically elected government of this country".

The clashes left 21 dead, including 14 soldiers and three attackers, he said. Thirteen soldiers and one civilian suspected of being involved in the alleged coup attempt are in detention, he added.

Read: Shallow democracy to blame for West Africa coups

A number of anti-government soldiers are former guards of ex-president Ernest Bai Koroma, said Lieutenant General and Chief of Defence Staff, Peter Lavahun.

Lavahun said investigations into the clashes were being pursued and did not go so far as to link the violence in any way to Koroma, adding those behind the clashes had still not been identified.

Some officials have indicated a former member of Koroma's bodyguard may have been among those killed, citing photos circulating on social media.

Koroma, who lives in the capital and condemned the violence in a Sunday statement, said a corporal assigned to his guard had been shot dead outside the latter's home.

Authorities combing over Sunday's events admitted Tuesday that, after an initial government claim to the contrary, rebel soldiers had managed to gain access to firearms.

Security services reported finding two vehicles equipped with rocket launchers and automatic rifles on the outskirts of Freetown.

'Handsome reward'

Police earlier published photographs of 32 men and two women it said were being sought in connection with the unrest. They include serving and retired soldiers and police as well as some civilians.

Read: Sierra Leone appoints team to probe deadly protest

A police statement posted on social media offered a "handsome reward" to anyone coming forward with information on the "fugitives."

The unrest sparked fears of another coup in West Africa, where Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Guinea have all experienced putsches since 2020.

President Julius Maada Bio on Monday received a high-level delegation from Ecowas and Nigeria, a heavyweight in the region which currently holds the regional bloc's presidency.

"The chair of authority... has asked us to underscore the readiness and the commitment of Ecowas to support the people of Sierra Leone to strengthen national security by all means, including... the deployment if needs be of regional elements," Omar Alieu Touray, president of the Ecowas commission delegation visiting Freetown, said.

He did not specify what he meant by "elements".

"Ecowas and Nigeria will not accept any interference with democracy, peace, security and stability in Sierra Leone," said Nigeria's national security adviser, Malam Nuhu Ribadu.

Sierra Leone experienced a political crisis after elections in June, the results of which the main opposition disputed.

An agreement was reached in October following mediation by the Commonwealth, the African Union and Ecowas.

President Bio himself led a coup in the 1990s before handing over power and returning to politics as a civilian years later.