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Africa

Sierra Leone steps up security measures against terrorist attacks

The recent attack at Nairobi's Westgate shopping mall has put much of the world on high alert, including the West African state of Sierra Leone. It sent a contingent of troops to Somalia earlier this year.

Responsibility for the September attack in Nairobi that left more than 70 people dead was claimed by al-Shabab which is believed to have links with the al Qaeda terrorist network.

Earlier this year al-Shabab issued a threat to any country sending troops to Somalia. Sierra Leone is one of those countries, having contributed 850 soldiers in April 2013. Following the Westgate mall incident, Sierra Leone has stepped up security across the country.

Government spokesperson, Abdulai Bayraytay, said all necessary precautions were being taken on land borders, in the air and sea as well as in the capital of Freetown.

A police officer checks the back of a vehicle in Freetown, Sierra Leone (Photo: Nina deVries)

Security personnel are taking no chances in the capital Freetown following threats from al-Shabab

"There are certain areas we have restricted, like George Street where we have the Sierra Leone police,” said Bayraytay, "also the Ministry of Finance, the vicinity around the bank of Sierra Leone and military and police installations."

The spokesman added that there is now more camera surveillance and authorities are also working with Interpol, the international police organization.

In the western part of Freetown, James Sesay runs a small food and drink shop. He complains that since the Nairobi mall siege, business has slowed down as fewer people go out to eat due to al-Shabab threats.

He is also worried about his two daughters and makes sure that they return home every day from school as soon as classes finish.

"We are worried because we have experienced what is war, we have taken 10 years of war here, and we know what war is," Sesay said in a reference to the country's civil war which ended in 2002.

Sierra Leone 'will not be intimidated'

Bockarie Massaquoi, a cab driver in Freetown, believes that Sierra Leone is too far away and too complicated for al-Shabab to reach. “I think they want to scare us, but I'm not worried," said Massaquoi. He thinks that the militant group is just trying to intimidate his country.

Menunatu Pratt heads the department of peace and conflict studies at Sierra Leone's Fourah Bay University. She says it is a big step forward for Sierra Leone to provide troops to other countries.

A police check point in Freetown. Photo: Nina deVries

Police in Freetown set up check points in key areas

When the country was going through its own civil war, troops from around the world came to its aid. Now, she says, this is a chance for Sierra Leone to pay them back.

"Every nation that wants to be great or is looking for prosperity, you should not only be concerned about what is happening in your own country," said Pratt.

However, she also said the country still needs to improve on its emergency and rescue operations.

"It's not only about military response, it's how to deal with casualties and how to address disastrous situations.

"You need to have the right kind of equipment, you need to have the hospitals, medicines, ambulances and then you need to ensure citizens are aware , that they have education for their own security, " Pratt said.

As for the troops in Somalia, government spokesman Baraytay says there are no plans to pull them out of Somalia and the government will not be intimidated by al-Shabab.

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