Sierra Leone Declares National Curfew Amid Security Concerns

The authorities in Sierra Leone declared a nationwide curfew on Sunday, hours after what they described as a thwarted effort by unidentified men to break into one of the West African country’s key military armories and barracks.

The country’s president, Julius Maada Bio, said early Sunday that there had been “a breach of security” at the Wilberforce military barracks in the capital, Freetown, as “some unidentified individuals attacked the military armory.”

“However, they were repelled,” Mr. Bio said on social media, “and calm has been restored.”

Mr. Bio called on the public to stay indoors, adding: “We shall continue to protect the peace and security of Sierra Leone against the forces that wish to truncate our much-cherished stability.”

The barracks are strategically placed near Mr. Bio’s residence, and the armory is one of the most important places where weapons are kept. According to local journalists, heavy gunfire was heard early Sunday in Freetown, and soldiers with rocket-propelled grenades and rifles could be seen setting up military blockades in some strategic parts of the city.

The news reverberated across the region, which in recent years has endured a series of military coups. In Guinea, Sierra Leone’s neighbor, a junta rules despite international efforts to restore civilian governments.

Mr. Bio, 59, a former military officer who took part in two coups during Sierra Leone’s civil war in the 1990s, was re-elected this year. But the result of the vote was rejected by his main opponent, and questioned by some observers who cited a lack of transparency.

The U.S. Embassy condemned “in the strongest possible terms” Sunday’s attempted break-in, and urged residents to cooperate with government security forces. “Such actions have no justification,” it said in a statement.

Under Mr. Bio’s leadership, an additional one million children in Sierra Leone have begun attending school. But the country has been struggling with record levels of inflation and unemployment, and some of the highest levels of food insecurity in West Africa. He has also been accused of overseeing violent repression of protests, including in the summer of 2022, when more than two dozen people died in demonstrations against rising prices.

This is a developing story.

Joseph Johnson contributed reporting.