Twenty killed in Sierra Leone attack and nearly 2,000 prisoners escape

By Umaru Fofana

FREETOWN (Reuters) – Twenty people were killed and nearly 2,000 inmates escaped during Sunday’s attack on a military barracks, a prison and other locations in Sierra Leone, officials said on Monday.

The West African country was thrown into panic in the early hours when the assailants sent gunfire ringing across the capital Freetown. The government blamed “renegade soldiers” that it said had been repelled.

President Julius Maada Bio said in an address on Sunday that most of the leaders of the attack had been arrested and that efforts to apprehend others were under way. An investigation has been launched, he said.

Army spokesman Colonel Issa Bangura told Reuters that the 20 dead included 13 soldiers, three assailants, a police officer, a civilian and someone working in private security. Eight people were wounded and three arrested, he said.

Some 1,890 inmates escaped from the Pademba Road central prison after the attackers broke in, according to a situation report that prison officials shared with Reuters on Monday. So far, 23 have returned, it said.

In a two-hour raid, the assailants rammed open the main gate with a vehicle after gunfire and a rocket launcher failed to breach prison defences, said Colonel Shek Sulaiman Massaquoi, the acting director general of the Sierra Leone Correctional Service.

Inside the prison on Monday, a Reuters reporter saw cell doors broken open or removed entirely, and piles of trash from an ongoing clean-up.

The police urged inmates to return to prison in a statement on Monday, and offered the public rewards for details on the whereabouts of escapees or the attackers.


Life returned to Freetown on Monday afternoon as shops and businesses opened after the government reduced an all-day curfew to a nightly one running from 2100-0600 GMT.

In a show of a return to normalcy, Bio’s X social media account on Monday shared a picture of the president behind his desk in his office saying he was at work.

“The task before us is too great and urgent to be derailed by those who seek to truncate the peace and security that we have enjoyed as a country,” he said in the post.

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, a result rejected by the main opposition candidate and questioned by 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.

(Reporting by Umaru Fofana; Writing by Anait Miridzhanian, Bate Felix and Edward McAllister; Editing by Alison Williams and Mark Potter)