Sierra Leone was thrown into panic on Sunday as coordinated attacks on a military barracks, a prison, and other locations left 20 people dead and nearly 2,000 inmates escaped. The government blamed “renegade soldiers” for the violence, which has raised tensions in the West African country still recovering from a brutal civil war.
Of the 1,890 inmates who escaped from Sierra Leone’s central prison after the 26 November jailbreak, 155 were serving life imprisonment and 831 were “long term” convicts. There were 20 foreign nationals with 10 of them convicted and the others on remand or awaiting trial. 253 were on remand while 347 are categorized as being on trial. Hundreds of others were serving short-term jail sentences and two were under “safe custody”.
Reuters reports that the attacks began in the early hours of Sunday morning when gunmen launched coordinated assaults on the Wilberforce military barracks, the Pademba Road central prison, and the Eastern Police Station in Freetown, the capital city. Heavy gunfire echoed through the streets as the attackers engaged in fierce clashes with security forces.
According to army spokesman Colonel Issa Bangura, 13 soldiers, three assailants, a police officer, a civilian, and a private security guard were among the 20 people killed in the violence. Eight others were wounded, and three suspects were arrested, he said.
In a two-hour raid, the attackers breached the Pademba Road prison, allowing 1,890 inmates to escape. By Monday, only 23 inmates had returned, prison officials said.
President Julius Maada Bio addressed the nation on Sunday, assuring the public that the situation was under control and that most of the attack’s leaders had been arrested. He also announced a curfew from 2100 to 0600 GMT to restore calm and facilitate security operations.
The attacks have heightened tensions in Sierra Leone, which is still grappling with the aftermath of a devastating civil war that lasted from 1991 to 2002 and claimed the lives of over 50,000 people.
The country’s political climate has been particularly tense since Bio’s re-election in June, which was disputed by the main opposition candidate and raised concerns among international partners, including the United States and the European Union. In August 2022, at least 21 civilians and six police officers were killed in anti-government protests.
The government has urged escaped prisoners to return to custody and has offered rewards for information leading to the capture of the attackers. Authorities are investigating the motives behind the attacks and the identities of those involved.