Sierra Leone information minister says weekend attack was a failed coup

By Umaru Fofana

FREETOWN (Reuters) -Sierra Leone’s government said on Tuesday that attacks on several locations in the capital Freetown on Sunday were a failed attempt to overthrow the government led mostly by bodyguards of former President Ernest Bai Koroma.

The West African nation’s information minister Chernor Bah, and the chief of defence staff Lt. General Patrick Lavahun, told a news conference the former president could not be directly linked to the plot but investigations were ongoing.

“The incident was a failed attempted coup. The intention was to illegally subvert and overthrow a democratically elected government,” said Bah.

“The attempt failed, and plenty of the leaders are either in police custody or on the run. We will try to capture them and bring them to the full force of the laws of Sierra Leone.”

Gunmen attacked a military barracks, a prison and other locations on Sunday, freeing about 2,200 inmates and killing more than 20 people, said authorities in the West African country. By Monday calm had returned.

Koroma in a statement on Sunday, condemned the attacks, and the killing of a security guard assigned to his residence and said another was “whisked away to an unknown location”.

Thirteen military officers and a civilian have been arrested following the incident, minister Bah told a press conference, adding that over two dozen people, including five army majors and two captains, were on a wanted list following the attacks.

“Some of these guys were police officers, or they were dismissed or retired. And some were military officers, either retired or serving,” army chief of defence staff Lavahun told the news conference. “Most of these guys were guards of the former president.”

Sierra Leone’s main opposition All People Congress of the former president, condemned the attacks in a statement.

The condemnation was echoed by the spokesperson of the U.S. State Department in a statement.

“We call for those responsible for these attacks to be held accountable in accordance with the rule of law. We commend leaders from across the political spectrum for their courage in speaking out against violence.”

Sierra Leone, which is still recovering from a 1991-2002 civil war in which more than 50,000 were killed, has been tense since Bio was re-elected in June. The result was rejected by the main opposition candidate and questioned by international partners including the United States and the European Union.

(Reporting by Umaru Fofana, additional reporting by Cooper Inveen Writing by Nellie Peyton and Bate Felix;Editing by Alison Williams, Christina Fincher, Tomasz Janowski and David Gregorio)