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West African Attacks Put Sierra Leone on Alert


The Radisson Blu hotel in Freetown, Sierra Leone, is one of several hotels that has increased security due to recent attacks in West Africa, Jan. 28, 2016. (N. de Vries/VOA)

The Radisson Blu hotel in Freetown, Sierra Leone, is one of several hotels that has increased security due to recent attacks in West Africa, Jan. 28, 2016. (N. de Vries/VOA)

Recent hotel attacks in Burkina Faso and Mali have prompted concerns and increased vigilance in countries across West Africa.

Sierra Leone, for example, has stepped up security not only around hotels popular with foreigners, but also at the airport, at land borders and on the waterways.

Francis Langumba Kelli, spokesperson for the Office of National Security (ONS) in Sierra Leone, said there has been no direct threat from any terrorist organization, but that the country is not taking any chances.

"So as a precautionary measure, we think we should start stepping up our security efforts, because we have come to realize that the nature of attacks look at vulnerable countries and areas frequented by foreigners, especially Westerners,” Kelli said.

This is not the first time the country has increased security due to other attacks on the continent. In 2013, when the Somali-based militant group al-Shabab attacked the Westgate mall in Kenya, Sierra Leone took similar protective measures.

FILE - A gunman aims his rifle inside a store during an attack on the Westgate shopping mall in this still frame taken from video footage by security cameras inside the mall in Nairobi and released to Reuters on Oct. 17, 2013.

FILE - A gunman aims his rifle inside a store during an attack on the Westgate shopping mall in this still frame taken from video footage by security cameras inside the mall in Nairobi and released to Reuters on Oct. 17, 2013.

The ONS also wants to develop anti-terrorism legislation.

'No cause for alarm'

Sierra Leone's security forces are working with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, which is offering technical input, Kelli said, while cautioning against overreaction.

"There's no cause for alarm,” he said. “I'm seeing a lot misconceptions, messaging going around on social media, saying don't go to the Radisson Blu, don't go to [hotel] lobby, lock yourself in the room. Those are panicking situations that will not help at all."

Hotel manager Nuno Nueves at the Radisson Blu in Freetown echoed the views of the ONS, saying the key is prevention. The hotel has stepped up security with more guards on patrol and new metal detectors, he said. The hotel will also be installing more security cameras.

Nueves said he realizes people may be concerned about visiting Sierra Leone, but the right precautions have been taken. In addition, he said, he is in touch with embassies and the president's office to exchange ideas on additional security measures.

"As long as this country is open for business, we should make it possible that people come here to feel comfortable and safe," he said.

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