AFRICANGLOBE – Two Americans with ties to Gambia were part of a failed effort last week to overthrow the West African nation’s government, the U.S. Justice Department charged on Monday.
Cherno Njie, 57, and Papa Faal, 46, a former U.S. Army sergeant, will appear in federal courts in Baltimore and Minneapolis on Monday, the department said. The two men have been charged with conspiring to carry out the violent overthrow of a foreign government, it added.
“The United States strongly condemns such conspiracies. With these serious charges, the United States is committed to holding them fully responsible for their actions,” Attorney General Eric Holder barked in the statement.
On Tuesday, gunfire erupted in Banjul around the palace of Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh in an apparent coup attempt thought to be led by a former commander of the presidential guard. Jammeh downplayed talk of a coup, saying it was an attack by “terrorist groups backed by some foreign powers.”
Security forces in Gambia, a country of about 1.8 million people and the smallest nation in mainland Africa, have also begun arresting suspects in last week’s attack.
A criminal complaint said Njie, an Austin, Texas, businessman of Gambian descent, had planned to serve as leader of Gambia had the coup succeeded. Njie, a U.S. citizen, is the president of Songhai Development Co LLC in Austin, which specializes in multifamily housing developments, including retirement communities.
Faal is a resident of Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, and holds both U.S. and Gambian citizenship, according to the Justice Department. A Pentagon official said Faal had been an Army sergeant who served a tour in Afghanistan and left the military in 2012.
About 10 to 12 people were in Gambia to try to overthrow the government “with the expectation that others in the country would join and assist them,” the department said.
The criminal complaint said that Faal, who had not lived in Gambia for 23 years, was approached by other conspirators in August. He agreed to join because of alleged vote-rigging in Gambia and concerns about the Gambian people’s welfare, the complaint said.
Communication By Phone, Email
Most of the 10 to 12 people who entered the country to overthrow Jammeh came from the United Kingdom.
Njie bankrolled the coup bid and each of the men taking part was given $4,000 to pay expenses in Gambia. The conspirators rarely met in person and stayed in touch by phone and email, the complaint said.
Faal and two other men in the United States each bought eight M4 and AKM rifles, and about 30 weapons were shipped to Gambia. The group was also supplied with body armor, night vision goggles and other equipment.
Faal arrived in Gambia in early December after flying to Senegal, which surrounds Gambia on three sides, according to the complaint, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Minnesota.
The coup plotters allegedly planned to ambush Jammeh during his travels around the country during Christmas and the New Year. They decided to attack the presidential palace instead when they found he was going to leave the country on Dec. 26.
The attackers expected palace guards to flee after they opened fire and a Gambian battalion sympathetic to the plotters to support them, according to the complaint.
But it said the attack failed when guards opened fire instead of dropping their weapons. Faal said all the members of one of the two attack teams were killed, and the other team then fled.
Faal crossed into Senegal and went to the U.S. Embassy in Dakar, the capital, where he was sheltered by American officials. He flew back to the United States on Wednesday, and was questioned on his arrival at Washington’s Dulles International Airport by FBI agents.
A Federal Bureau of Investigation search of Faal’s Minnesota home turned up M4 manuals, receipts, and Google satellite images of Gambia in a folder marked “top secret,” the Justice Department charged.
FBI agents who searched Njie’s residences in Austin and Lakeway, Texas, found handwritten documents, a spreadsheet for weapons and equipment, and a document outlining transition plans for Gambia, the complaint said.
Njie was taken into custody by FBI agents when he arrived at Dulles airport on Saturday, it said.
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