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US Charges 2 Citizens in Gambia Coup Attempt

  • VOA News

Two U.S. citizens are facing charges for their alleged role in last week's coup attempt in the West African nation of Gambia.

The U.S. Justice Department says Cherno Njie, 57, and Papa Faal, 46, are both in custody after making their initial court appearances Monday - Njie in Baltimore, Maryland, and Faal in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Both men are charged with conspiracy to violate the U.S. Neutrality Act as well as a firearm charge.

According to the Justice Department, Njie and Faal traveled to Gambia in December with the purpose of overthrowing the government.

The criminal complaint says ahead of their trip, Faal and other co-conspirators purchased weapons including M4 semi-automatic rifles, and shipped them to Gambia for use in the coup attempt.

It says the conspirators expected Njie would have served as Gambia's interim leader had the plot to overthrow President Yahya Jammeh succeeded.

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.

The Justice Department says when the coup attempt was foiled, both men returned to the U.S.

A call made to Faal’s cellphone number on Monday was picked up by a woman who told VOA she had no comment and advised that we contact Faal’s lawyer.

“The attempted coup was the result of more than 20 years of abuse by Jammeh. Gambians didn’t ask Jammeh to lead us. He forced himself onto the Gambian people by overthrowing the democratically-elected government that was in place,” said Pa Samba Jow, a spokesman for the Democratic Union of Gambian Activists, has been in exile for close to two decades.

Jow says he knows Faal, one of the defendants.

“He’s a very upright and patriotic guy, a very honest man and a man who lost his country," he said. "He was doing his PhD, has written a book: 'One Week in Hell' about the 1981 abortive coup [in Gambia]. A very active person in the community in Minnesota. He’s a generous person who believes in democracy and hates the abuse of other human beings.”

Tamsir Jasseh of the Gambian Association for Peace and Reconciliation based in Atlanta told VOA the coup was no surprise to anybody.

“It seems as if every democratic and legal venue of bringing about change in Gambia have been locked down by the manner in which Mr. Jammeh governs the country, and people are forced to look into other ways in which to liberate themselves,” he said.

Njie is a U.S. citizen of Gambian descent and a resident of Austin, Texas. Njie is the president of Songhai Development Co. LLC in Austin, which specializes in multi-family housing developments, including retirement communities.

Faal is a dual U.S.-Gambian citizen and a resident of Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. A Pentagon official said Faal had been an Army sergeant who served a tour in Afghanistan and left the military in 2012.

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.

VOA's Mariama Diallo contributed to this report. Some information for this report provided by Reuters.