In an announcement, President Julius Maada Bio of Sierra Leone has declared that the recent incident on November 26 was, beyond any doubt, an attempted coup d'État. The president revealed that investigations carried out by the security and intelligence community strongly indicate a premeditated and coordinated effort to overthrow the democratically elected government through violent and unlawful means.
President Julius Maada Bio addressed the nation, expressing the gravity of the situation. He stated, "Their action was premeditated and coordinated, and was executed to unseat the democratically elected government by violent and unlawful means, topple constitutional order and reverse our decades of investment in peace and democracy."
The president's words underline the severity of the incident, which was not merely a spontaneous event but a calculated move to disrupt the established democratic order in Sierra Leone. The assailants aimed to dismantle the constitutional structure that the nation has diligently built over the years, threatening the peace and democratic progress achieved through significant investments.
President Bio emphasized that his government would treat the attempted coup as a matter of law and order, devoid of any political, tribal, or religious considerations. He sought to reassure the public that the response to this incident would be guided by the pursuit of justice and adherence to the rule of law.
"The attempted coup will therefore be dealt with by my government purely as a law and order issue, not a political, tribal or religious matter. Therefore, let all be rest assured that we will follow the evidence wherever it leads us," President Bio declared, asserting the commitment to a thorough and impartial investigation.
- 'Failed attempted coup?' -
"The state security and intelligence forces tell me now the November 26 incidents might be a failed attempted coup," Chernor Bah, communications minister, told reporters on Tuesday, adding investigations were ongoing.
"The intention of these people might be to illegally subvert and overthrow the democratically elected government of this country".
The clashes left 21 dead, including 14 soldiers and three attackers, he said. Thirteen soldiers and one civilian suspected of being involved in the alleged coup attempt are in detention, he added.
A number of anti-government soldiers are former guards of ex-president Ernest Bai Koroma, said Lieutenant General and Chief of Defence Staff, Peter Lavahun.
Lavahun said investigations into the clashes were being pursued and did not go so far as to link the violence in any way to Koroma, adding those behind the clashes had still not been identified.
Some officials have indicated a former member of Koroma's bodyguard may have been among those killed, citing photos circulating on social media.
Koroma, who lives in the capital and condemned the violence in a Sunday statement, said a corporal assigned to his guard had been shot dead outside the latter's home.
Authorities combing over Sunday's events admitted Tuesday that, after an initial government claim to the contrary, rebel soldiers had managed to gain access to firearms.
Security services reported finding two vehicles equipped with rocket launchers and automatic rifles on the outskirts of Freetown.
- 'Handsome reward' -
Police earlier published photographs of 32 men and two women it said were being sought in connection with the unrest. They include serving and retired soldiers and police as well as some civilians.
A police statement posted on social media offered a "handsome reward" to anyone coming forward with information on the "fugitives."
The unrest sparked fears of another coup in West Africa, where Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Guinea have all experienced putsches since 2020.
President Julius Maada Bio on Monday received a high-level delegation from ECOWAS and Nigeria, a heavyweight in the region which currently holds the regional bloc's presidency.
"The chair of authority... has asked us to underscore the readiness and the commitment of ECOWAS to support the people of Sierra Leone to strengthen national security by all means, including... the deployment if needs be of regional elements," Omar Alieu Touray, president of the ECOWAS commission delegation visiting Freetown, said.
He did not specify what he meant by "elements".
"ECOWAS and Nigeria will not accept any interference with democracy, peace, security and stability in Sierra Leone," said Nigeria's national security adviser, Malam Nuhu Ribadu.
Sierra Leone experienced a political crisis after elections in June, the results of which the main opposition disputed.
An agreement was reached in October following mediation by the Commonwealth, the African Union and ECOWAS.
President Bio himself led a coup in the 1990s before handing over power and returning to politics as a civilian years later.