​Two US citizens accused of plotting to overthrow Gambian government

Al Hadji Yahya Jammeh, President of the Republic of the Gambia.(Reuters / Lucas Jackson)
Two American citizens from The Gambia were formally charged by federal prosecutors in the United States on Monday for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government of their home country.

According to the US Department of Justice, Cherno Njie of Texas and Papa Faal of Minnesota participated together in “an unsuccessful attempted coup against the government of The Gambia” late last year.

Prosecutors allege that Njie, 57, plotted with Faal, 46, to overthrow the West African nation’s leadership, and traveled to The Gambia last month in hopes of accomplishing as much with the aid of an arsenal of weapons and an armed group of around 12 individuals. Their efforts were foiled, however, and they returned to the US and were later arrested.

“The group’s plan for the coup was purportedly to restore democracy to The Gambia and to improve the lives of its people. They hoped they would be able to take over the country without having to kill any Gambians. They also expected to be join by up to 160 members of the local Gambian military who supposedly agreed to participate in the coup,” Justice Dept. investigators allege in the complaint unsealed this week.

“These defendants stand accused of conspiring to carry out the violent overthrow of a foreign government, in violation of US law,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement on Monday. “The United States strongly condemns such conspiracies. With these serious charges, the United States is committed to holding them fully responsible for their actions.”

The Justice Dept. describes Njie as a Texas businessman by way of The Gambia who was the main financier of the failed coup; according to prosecutors, he and Faal, a dual US/Gambian citizen believed to have also served in the US Air Force and Army, conspired with upwards of a dozen others to take down the Gambian government.

“Prior to departing for The Gambia, between August and October 2014, Faal and other co-conspirators purchased multiple firearms, including M4 semi-automatic rifles, and shipped them to The Gambia for use in the coup attempt. Members of the conspiracy also acquired night-vision goggles, body armor, ammunition, black military style uniform pants, boots and other personal equipment,” the DOJ alleges.

Despite being well equipped, however, prosecutors say that the attempt to overthrow the Gambian government fell flat when one of the co-conspirators, on Dec. 30, fired a shot outside of the State House in Banjul where the Gambian President Yahya Jammehlives and was met with heavy fire.

“Although numerous conspirators on the assault teams were killed or injured during the failed attempt to take control of the government building, Faal was able to flee the scene and he ultimately returned to the US., Njie also returned to the US,” Monday’s statement reads in part.

Faal entered the US Embassy in Senegal the day after the failed coup, reads a portion of the official complaint, and was interviewed by the FBI both there and at an airport outside of Washington, DC upon his return on January 1.

Both men have been charged with one count each of conspiracy to violate the Neutrality Act and conspiracy to possess a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence. The Neutrality Act carries a maximum sentence of three years and prohibits US citizens from knowingly taking part in “any military or naval expedition or enterprise to be carried on from thence against the territory or domination of any foreign prince or state, or of any colony, district or people with whom the United States is at peace.”

Previously, the US State Dept. acknowledged the attempted coup, saying late last year, “We strongly condemn any attempt to seize power through extra-constitutional means,” and, “We regret the loss of life and call on all parties to refrain from further violence.”