The measures in Sierra Leone follow the storming of a military facility in the capital, the president said A man is questioned by Sierra leonean military police at a road block in Freetown on November 26, 2023. © Saidu BAH / AFP

A nationwide curfew has been imposed in Sierra Leone following an attack on a military facility in the West African country, President Julius Maada Bio announced on Sunday.

According to his statement, a group of armed individuals breached security at the Wilberforce Barracks in Freetown in the early hours of Sunday, and attempted to break into an arms depot. Security forces managed to bring the situation under control, he added.

“As the combined team of our Security Forces continue to root out the remnant of the fleeing renegades, a nationwide curfew has been declared and citizens are encouraged to stay indoors,” the president said. He also urged citizens to unite and “protect democracy.”

According to the Sierra Leone Telegraph, the attackers were “a group of unidentified soldiers and police officers” who were able to seize “heavy weapons.” Gunshots then rang out in the area, including near the nearby presidential residence, before the armed group moved on to Freetown Central Prison and broke out a number of inmates, “many of whom have been held without trial for several years, including political prisoners.”

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Reuters reported that Freetown Central Prison was left open and that some inmates escaped, citing an unnamed senior official. The same information was published by the BBC, citing an official at the facility.

Videos purportedly showing escaped prisoners running in the streets have gone viral on social media, but their authenticity is uncertain, and there has been no official comment on the matter.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has condemned the storming of the military barracks in Freetown, calling it “a plot by certain individuals to acquire arms and disturb the peace and constitutional order in Sierra Leone.”

The political situation in Sierra Leone has been volatile since the re-election of President Bio in June, which drew criticism from the opposition and international observers over “statistical discrepancies.”

In August, police arrested senior army officers on suspicion of plotting to attack state institutions. However, according to the Sierra Leone Telegraph, the arrests did not come as a “surprise” as they occurred during tensions between the president’s office and senior military officers, in the wake of the vote.