2023 Sierra Leone coup attempt

(Redirected from 2023 Freetown attacks)

On 26 November 2023, a group of militants attacked several locations in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone.[4][5][6][7] The country was subsequently placed under a nationwide curfew, with a manhunt being called to find the militants.[6] President Julius Maada Bio claimed the attack was repelled by the security forces and said the government was in control of the situation.[4][5] The attacks were described by international organizations as attempts to disrupt constitutional order in the country, and by information minister Chernor Bah as an "attempted coup".[8][5][9]

2023 Freetown attacks
Part of 2023 Sierra Leone coup plot and the Coup Belt

Location of Freetown in Sierra Leone
Date26–28 November 2023
(2 days)
Location
Freetown, Sierra Leone
8°29′4″N 13°14′4″W / 8.48444°N 13.23444°W / 8.48444; -13.23444
Status
  • Armoury attack repelled
  • Prison escape successful
  • National curfew imposed
Belligerents

 Sierra Leone

Dissident military officers, unidentified militants and prisoners
Commanders and leaders
Julius Maada Bio Unknown
Strength
Unknown Unknown
Casualties and losses
14 soldiers, 1 police officer, 1 prison guard killed[1]
8 soldiers injured[2]
3 attackers killed[2]
80 arrested[3]
1 civilian, 1 private security employee killed[2]

Background edit

The attacks came amid political tensions brought about by the reelection of President Julius Maada Bio in June 2023 which was disputed by the opposition and raised concerns from the United States and the European Union. In August, there were reports of a coup plot, which led to the arrest of several soldiers.[10]

Events edit

At around 4:30 in the morning[9] of 26 November 2023, a group of militants attacked the military armoury at the Wilberforce barracks in Freetown, Sierra Leone,[4][5] close to the presidential residence.[6] Later the same morning, they broke into Central Pademba Road Prison in Freetown, releasing nearly its entire population of 1,890 inmates after the security forces retreated from the area.[6][7][11] Some of the inmates were reportedly seen walking around the Brookfields neighborhood.[12] Another prison was also attacked by the militants.[13] A Reuters correspondent saw cell doors forced open or removed entirely during a visit to Pademba prison after the jailbreak, with the head of the country's correctional services saying that the attackers rammed a vehicle through the prison's front gate after failing to open it with a rocket launcher.[14] At least 100 inmates later reported back to their prisons,[15] with one inmate claiming that military officers forcefully opened his cell during heavy gunfire and ordered him to leave.[16] The attackers were allegedly spotted in police vehicles, carrying stolen equipment.[4] They were also described as wearing uniforms and balaclavas.[2] Analysts put the possible number of attackers at about 50, including military officials and former rebel commanders.[11]

Other clashes were reported near Murray Town, home of the navy, as well as in another military site near Freetown.[4] Two guards assigned at the residence of former president Ernest Bai Koroma were also attacked,[7] with Koroma saying that one of them, a corporal, was killed and the other, a warrant officer was abducted.[17] Local media subsequently reported that the army had carried out a raid at his home, killing one guard and capturing another, while another member of Koroma's security team was killed in a separate clash.[11] Interior minister David Taluva said that the militants had attacked a police barracks and seized weapons from officers after running out of ammunition.[18] A BBC correspondent said he understood that the attackers were supposed to seize the presidential residence but moved on to the armoury after failing to overrun presidential security.[2]

Information Minister Chernoh Bah described the attacks as "co-ordinated and properly planned attacks on the security and wellbeing of our state".[17] The country was subsequently placed under a nationwide curfew, with a manhunt being called to find the militants.[6] President Julius Maada Bio claimed the attack was repelled by the security forces and that the government was in control of the situation.[4][5] Some militants were captured, with video appearing to show uniformed personnel under arrest in the back or beside a military vehicle.[9] Many streets in Freetown were empty, with soldiers on patrol and checkpoints being set up.[19] Fighting was reported to have been pushed back to the outskirts of the capital.[20] That evening, Bio said in a televised address that most of the leaders of the attack, which he called a "breach of security" and an attack on democracy, had been arrested and that "calm had returned", while the curfew was shortened from 9 PM to 6 AM on 27 November.[2][19][17] Sierra Leone's civil aviation authority said the country's airspace remained open but asked airlines to reschedule their flights after the curfew is lifted.[9]

On 28 November, gunfire was reported in Murray Town, with authorities saying that it was part of a successful operation to capture a person of interest in the attacks.[10]

Casualties edit

The Sierra Leone army said 14 of its soldiers were killed fighting for the government,[1] while eight other personnel were injured.[2] It added that three attackers, one police officer, one prison guard, one civilian woman and a private security employee were also killed, placing the total death toll at 21.[1]

Perpetrators and motivations edit

The group responsible for the attacks is still unknown.

One of the militants, patrolling on a stolen police vehicle near the Wilberforce barracks, claimed their intent to "clean the society", and asserted not being after ordinary civilians.[7]

Information Minister Chernor Bah said that current and former military officials were among those involved.[17] An army spokesperson described the perpetrators as “renegade soldiers”.[14]

Law enforcement confined former president Ernest Bai Koroma to his home for questioning on 9 December. Sierra Leonean police chief Fayia Sellu said Koroma was a suspect in the coup attempt, and the government confirmed his statement on 12 December.[21] Koroma had previously said that he "strongly condemned the attack".[22]

Aftermath edit

On 28 November, Information Minister Chernor Bah called the incident "a failed attempted coup" which was intended "to illegally subvert and overthrow a democratically elected government.”[23] Police later released photographs of 32 men and two women it said were being sought in connection with the attacks, including include active and retired soldiers and police, as well as some civilians.[24]

On the same day, 13 military officers and one civilian were arrested, while two vehicles carrying weapons and ammunition were recovered after being stolen by the attackers from the armoury.[25] Deputy information minister Yusuf Keketoma Sandi later announced on state radio that 43 people had been arrested over the weekend of 2-3 December, bringing the total number of arrests in relation to the incident to 57. This included 37 soldiers, 10 civilians, four dismissed soldiers, five active police officers and one retired police officer.[1] On 5 December, the government announced the arrest of one of the alleged organizers of the coup, Amadu Koita, a former military officer and bodyguard of former president Koroma and a prominent critic of Bio's government on social media, along with two police officers who sheltered him, bringing the total number of arrests to 60.[26] Police released a surveillance photo of Koita purportedly carrying a gun in one of the prison attacks.[27]

As of 12 December, authorities have arrested 80 people on suspicion of involvement in the coup, while an additional 54 people are being sought, including Koroma's daughter. Authorities also said they had recovered 29 assault rifles and five rocket launchers belonging to the suspected coup plotters.[3] On 2 January 2024, Koita and 11 other individuals were charged with treason before a court in Freetown.[28] The next day, Koroma was also charged with four counts of treason in relation to the coup.[29]

Reactions edit

ECOWAS condemned the attacks, issuing a statement of "zero-tolerance for unconstitutional change of government" on 26 November and calling the incident an attempt to disrupt Sierra Leone's constitutional order.[4][5] On 28 November, the bloc said it was primed to deploy regional support to "strengthen national security" in the country.[10] The bloc sent a delegation to meet with Bio on 27 November. On the same day, Bio also met with a separate delegation from Nigeria whom he said delivered “a message of solidarity” from ECOWAS.[15] Nigerian national security adviser Malam Nuhu Ribadu warned that "anything that will interfere with democracy, peace, security and stability of Sierra Leone will not be accepted by ECOWAS and by Nigeria".[10]

The US embassy also condemned the attacks and offered continuous support to Sierra Leone in a social media statement.[5] The European Union's mission expressed concern and called for the respect of constitutional order.[9]

References edit

  1. ^ a b c d "Sierra Leone: 57 arrests after attempted coup". Africanews. December 5, 2023. Archived from the original on December 5, 2023. Retrieved December 6, 2023.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Sierra Leone prison breaks: Thirteen soldiers killed in violence". BBC. November 27, 2023. Archived from the original on November 27, 2023. Retrieved November 28, 2023.
  3. ^ a b "Attempted "coup" in Sierra Leone: ex-president Koroma "one of the suspects" - police". Africanews. December 13, 2023. Archived from the original on December 14, 2023. Retrieved December 14, 2023.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "Sierra Leone imposes nationwide curfew after military barracks attacked". Al Jazeera. November 26, 2023. Archived from the original on November 26, 2023. Retrieved November 26, 2023.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "Sierra Leone imposes nationwide curfew after armed clashes in capital". The Guardian. November 26, 2023. Archived from the original on November 26, 2023. Retrieved November 26, 2023.
  6. ^ a b c d e "Sierra Leone under curfew as prisoners on the loose". BBC News. November 26, 2023. Archived from the original on November 26, 2023. Retrieved November 26, 2023.
  7. ^ a b c d "Sierra Leone president says calm restored, most leaders of barracks attack detained". Reuters. November 27, 2023. Archived from the original on 2023-11-26. Retrieved 2023-11-26.
  8. ^ Pronczuk, Monika; Johnson, Joseph (2023-11-28). "Sierra Leone Announces Arrest of 13 Military Officials in 'Attempted Coup'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 2023-11-28. Retrieved 2023-11-28.
  9. ^ a b c d e "S.Leone Govt Says In Control After Military Armoury Attacked". Barron's. November 27, 2023. Archived from the original on November 28, 2023. Retrieved November 27, 2023.
  10. ^ a b c d "Sierra Leone violence: Sunday attacks were part of coup attempt - minister". BBC. 2023-11-28. Archived from the original on 2023-12-11. Retrieved 2023-11-29.
  11. ^ a b c "Uneasy calm in Sierra Leone as Freetown uprising reveals underlying tension". Aljazeera. November 28, 2023. Archived from the original on November 28, 2023. Retrieved November 28, 2023.
  12. ^ "Alleged Escaped Prisoners Walk In Streets Of Sierra Leone's Freetown". Barron's. November 27, 2023. Archived from the original on November 28, 2023. Retrieved November 27, 2023.
  13. ^ "Sierra Leone Hunts Gunmen, Tightens Security After Base Attack". Bloomberg. November 27, 2023. Archived from the original on 2023-11-28. Retrieved 2023-11-28.
  14. ^ a b "Twenty killed in Sierra Leone attack on military barracks, army says". Aljazeera. November 28, 2023. Archived from the original on November 28, 2023. Retrieved November 28, 2023.
  15. ^ a b "Sierra Leone's leader says most behind the weekend attacks are arrested, but few details are given". Associated Press. November 28, 2023. Archived from the original on November 27, 2023. Retrieved November 27, 2023.
  16. ^ "Boss La Returns to Pademba Road Prison". Sierra Leone Monitor. November 27, 2023. Archived from the original on November 27, 2023. Retrieved November 28, 2023.
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  18. ^ "Sierra Leone armoury attacked by 'renegades,' prisoners broken out". CBC. November 27, 2023. Archived from the original on November 27, 2023. Retrieved November 27, 2023.
  19. ^ a b "Most leaders of the attacks on Sierra Leone's military barracks and prisons arrested as curfew eases". Associated Press. November 27, 2023. Archived from the original on November 27, 2023. Retrieved November 27, 2023.
  20. ^ "S.Leone under curfew after military armoury attacked". France 24. November 26, 2023. Archived from the original on November 26, 2023. Retrieved November 26, 2023.
  21. ^ "Sierra Leone Ex-president A Suspect In Coup Attempt: Police". Barron's. Archived from the original on 2023-12-14. Retrieved 2023-12-13.
  22. ^ "Former Sierra Leonean president called in for questioning over Nov. 26 failed coup". Africanews. December 7, 2023. Archived from the original on December 11, 2023. Retrieved December 8, 2023.
  23. ^ "Sierra Leone violence was failed coup - minister". BBC. 2023-11-28. Archived from the original on 2023-11-29. Retrieved 2023-11-28.
  24. ^ "Sierra Leone attacks were a failed coup attempt, officials say". Aljazeera. 2023-11-28. Archived from the original on 2023-11-28. Retrieved 2023-11-29.
  25. ^ "13 Sierra Leone military officers are under arrest for trying to stage a coup". Africanews. November 28, 2023. Archived from the original on November 28, 2023. Retrieved November 29, 2023.
  26. ^ "Sierra Leone arrests ex-president's guard over failed coup". Africanews. December 6, 2023. Archived from the original on December 6, 2023. Retrieved December 7, 2023.
  27. ^ "Sierra Leone ex-president is called in for questioning over attacks officials say was a failed coup". Associated Press. December 7, 2023. Archived from the original on December 11, 2023. Retrieved December 8, 2023.
  28. ^ "Sierra Leone charges ex-president's guard and 11 others over failed coup". Africanews. January 3, 2024. Retrieved January 3, 2024.
  29. ^ Fofana, Umaru (3 January 2024). "Ernest Bai Koroma: Sierra Leone ex-president charged with treason over attempted coup". BBC. Archived from the original on 3 January 2024. Retrieved 3 January 2024.