A young man in his twenties has been shot dead at Mile 91 in the central north of Sierra Leone after police carried out a code operation called Green Storm II.
The police upon a tip-off succeeded in capturing bails of cannabis sativa known, locally as marijuana or tafi. The aftermath is drawing a near political combat as residents told reporters and a team of civil right activists, that the joint team was dispatched from States House, which is the office of the president.
The death of the young man who has been identified as Abdul is being blamed on the police though the Transnational organised Crime Unit is giving reasons for the unfortunate incident.
According to the Deputy Head of the Transnational Organised Crime Unit (TOCU) of the Sierra Leone Police (SLP), Emmanuel Cole, Abdul Kombay Kamara was allegedly shot and killed by armed police men but he squarely put the blame on ‘irate youth’ whom he said tried to scupper the operation.
Cole was head of ‘Operation Green Storm Phase II’, conducted last Sunday in Matibo and Massengbeh in the Tonkolili district. He explained that, “As the operations was going on some youth ganged up and started pelting stones at us. They threw at us some locally made petrol bombs. Some were armed with machete. They booed at us that we were thieves but we stood our grounds that we were on mission which we must succeed. The situation became so tough to the extent that we heard gunshot at their end. The soldiers among us discerned that the sound was a shotgun. We had it about five times. The armed personnel released canister to disperse the crowd but they still stayed around.”
The deputy head of TOCU was however circumspect as he explained to newsmen what led to the death of the 23-year-old man, as according to him armed security men fired shots in the air in a bid to disperse the crowd, but without success, and had to retreat to Matibo village, where another group of armed officers was stationed to carry out a similar operation.
He said the ‘irate youth’ chased and pelted them with stones and also set-up roadblocks between Massengbeh and Matibo, adding that their colleagues at Matibo came to their rescue and removed the road blocks.
“The windscreen of one of our trucks was damaged as a result of the stone that landed on it. About six of our officers got injured. Finally, we withdrew to the Mile 91 Police Station with the exhibits. We arrested 34 suspects, six of them are women. These suspects are currently helping the police with investigations. Up to the time we left the scene (Massengbeh and Matibo) I did not hear of any fatal incident to any of the youth that were pursuing us,” he said.
Cole revealed that police seized 709 kilograms of substance suspected to be cannabis sativa, some fertilisers and eight motor bikes found stocked with some quantity of the suspected substance, which they brought to the TOCU headquarters.
He said no fewer than 150 multi-sectorial security personnel took part in the operation, which was divided into two groups, conveyed in four trucks and three Land Cruisers.
He explained that on their arrival at both villages at about 6 a.m. house-to-house search was conducted and that bundles of packaged dry leaves and seeds suspected to be cannabis sativa were discovered in, and retrieved from, most of the houses.
Meanwhile, Director of Planning and Inter-Agency Relation in the Office of National Security (ONS), Francis Languba Kellie, said the operation didn’t emanate in a vacuum as it was well calculated, planned, assessed and carefully.
The ONS coordinates the security sector in the country, especially in the area of giving directives.
He told journalists at a press conference held at police headquarters in Freetown that the operations came about following a Central Intelligence and Security Unit meeting held on August 27, 2018, where they developed a paper titled: ‘Cannabis cultivation, a continued treat to our attainment of food security drive,’ which was presented to President Bio in that meeting.
“State House does not give the security sector directives when it comes to operations. The National Security Council headed by the president is responsible for security policy formation for the country. We told him in that meeting that we planned to conduct a calculated raid so that we can be able to address the incessant cannabis cultivation all over the country,” Kellie said.
The police have come under criticism in recent times over what rights activists describe as ‘gross human right violations’
According to a US Department of Human Rights report released in 2017, police shot 18-year-old Ibrahim Jimmy and wounded two others when students from Njala University clashed with police officers who tried to block their demonstration against closure of the university.
In August 2016, police reportedly fatally shot two youth at a demonstration in Kabala over the relocation of a youth village from their district to Tonkolili.
Amnesty International also reported series of killings by the police in a recent report released few months ago, but the police were quick to refute the allegations.