2 October 2013

Sierra Leone: As Perceived Al-Shabab Threat Grips City

The Sierra Leone Police and other ancillary security outfits on Monday commenced strict and rigorous security checks at various public offices and institutions in Freetown, in response to threats by Al-Shabab militants to attack the country.

An Operational Support Division (OSD) officer at the main Law Court building, Fatmata Kamara, told Concord Times that they have clear instructions and mandate from the InspectorGeneral of Police to beef-up security at key government offices and in the central business district.

Kamara said the Law Court building is an important branch of the government as it hosts the Chief Justice, members of the Bench and officers of the court, as well as litigants and members of the public who frequent the building on a daily basis.

The officers were seen frisking bags and individuals entering the building, a move security officers said was justified, as "threats of any kind must be taken into consideration", and in respect of their mandate to protect the lives and properties of the citizens.

At the Police headquarters on George Street, Sergeant Alimamy Kamara confirmed that a new security regime has been instituted in response to the threat by the Somalia-based militants, and with a view to ensure public safety and security.

Meanwhile, there was shouting at the main entrance of the Freetown City Council (FCC) at Wallace-Johnson Street after visitors were stopped outside to be searched. Security personnel manning the entrance refused to allow visitors in until they get clearance from staff. This apparently did not go down well with many visitors, which led to a chaotic scene.

According to Public Relations Officer of the FCC, Cyril Mattia, the move was in compliance with a directive from the central government for security to be beefed up at key institutions.

Freetown has been gripped by fears of threat to public safety and security after the deadly terrorist attack on an upscale mall in Nairobi left tens of people dead and hundreds injured. Al-Shabab has claimed responsibility, in what they say was in retaliation for Kenya's involvement in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

The public and security remain vigilant in the wake of the Kenyan attack. A group of Pakistani men and their Sierra Leonean minders were last Friday arrested in Freetown on suspicion of being members of the al-Qaeda affiliated group. They have been released by the police, who so far have given few information as to the veracity of claims they are linked to any terrorist group.

Sierra Leone has 850 military personnel on the ground in Somalia, plus about 55 police officers. To many people, that makes the country a potential target for Al-Shabab, who are against any foreign intervention in Somalia.

However, the government remains defiant to keep its troops in thatcountry, and a further contingent of police officers are in preparation to be sent to Somalia, which has been at war since early 1990. Just last week, the Information Unit of AMISOM was in Freetown to conduct an awareness on the operations of various troops contributing countries and how to restore sustainable peace and stability in Somalia.

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