A military armoury in Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown came under attack on Sunday, the government announced, as it imposed an immediate national curfew.
The attack raised fears of a breakdown of order amid a surge of coups in the region.
The detention centers, including the Pademba Road Prisons — holding more than 2,000 inmates — were attacked just as security forces fought to restore calm during sustained shootouts at the Wilberforce military barracks, according to Information Minister Chernor Bah.
“The prisons were overrun [and] some prisoners were abducted by the assailants while many others were released,” Bah said. Security forces managed to “push back” the assailants to the outskirts of the city where fighting continues, he added.
Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio earlier declared a nationwide curfew in response to the attacks.
An Associated Press journalist in the capital said that gunshots were still heard in the city hours after the government assured residents of calm, although it wasn’t clear who was behind the exchange of fire, nor if any arrests were made.
“The security forces are making progress in the operation to defeat and apprehend those responsible for today’s attacks,” Bah said. “The government remains in control and on top of the situation.”
The president and the country’s Ministry of Information and Education also both said that the government and security forces are in control of the situation, trying to dismiss fears of a possible escalation of violence in the country whose population of 8 million people is among the poorest in the world, having some of the lowest scores on the U.N. Human Development Index.
No details were immediately given about the gunmen or the reason for the attack, which comes months after Bio was reelected for a second term in a disputed vote in which the main opposition party accused the electoral commission of rigging the results.