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October 02, 2013

Sierra Leone Boosts Security After Kenya Attacks

by Nina de Vries

The attack on Kenya's Westgate mall, where at least 67 people died, is having an effect in other African countries. 

The militant group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack and the al-Qaida-linked group has previously threatened other countries who have troops in Somalia, including Sierra Leone, prompting the government to boost security.

The streets of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, are always bustling with people, cars and motor bikes. But government spokesman Abdulai Bayraytay says there is one big change -- increased security.

"There are certain areas we have restricted, like George street where we have the Sierra Leone police, the Ministry of Finance, the vicinity around the Bank of Sierra Leone, and military and police installations," he said.

Bayraytay says that although al-Shabab's threat to Sierra Leone was made last April, the government is not taking anything lightly.

"We have strengthened our borders. We have a lot of intelligence personnel on the ground, all the over country and we do not want to take chances," he said. "But details would be limited because we do not want to compromise the work of our security agents."

Still, many people in Sierra Leone are worried about a domestic attack.

Bonet Sesay, a single mother of two small children, says she is worried about their safety.  She says her whole family is concerned.  Her mother, who usually sells food at a busy, local market, is now avoiding it.

"We saw what happened in Nairobi. Maybe they can do the same thing in [Sierra Leone]," she said.  "So my mother is scared and doesn't want to be where there are so many crowds. And me too, I don't want to be there, where's there's so many crowd."

James Sesay, no relation to Bonet Sesay, is a store owner in Freetown.  He says that since the incident in Kenya and the talk of more threats from al-Shabab, business has slowed down for him.

Sesay says although the civil war in Sierra Leone ended 10 years ago, people still remember the horrific atrocities many people suffered.  He does not want to think about any kind of major violence coming back to his country.

"I know about the war, I've seen it I've tasted it, I don't want it to repeat again," he said.

Authorities say everything is under control. 

Francis Munu, the Inspector General of the Sierra Leone police force, says people should not be alarmed. He says anyone deemed suspicious will be investigated.  Munu says this past weekend, seven Pakistani suspects were arrested.

'We've been interrogating them, we found they are no security threat so we released them pending further investigations," he said.

He adds police will be monitoring hotels, guest houses and other places where visitors normally go, to ensure they keep track of everyone.

As for pulling out the troops in Somalia, government spokesman Bayraytay says Sierra Leone has no plans to do so. Troops from all over the world came to Sierra Leone's aid when the country was going through its civil war.  Now, he says, this is a chance for Sierra Leone to help another country.