The attack took place just before New Year’s Day when the President was on a private visit to Dubai.
Two U.S. resident men were detained on U.S. soil. They face charges of “conspiring to carry out the violent overthrow of a foreign government – a violation of the U.S. Neutrality Act,” said Eric Holder, US attorney general in a statement.
Those arrested were Papa Faal, a US-Gambian dual national, and Cherno Njie, a US resident. Faal, 46, faces a court appearance in Minneapolis, Minnesota, while Njie, 57, will be brought before a judge in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Maryland.
“The group’s plan for the coup was purportedly to restore democracy to The Gambia and to improve the lives of its people,” Justice Dept. investigators allege in the complaint unsealed this week. “They hoped they would be able to take over the country without having to kill any Gambians. They also expected to be joined by up to 160 members of the local Gambian military who supposedly agreed to participate in the coup.”
Njie, described by investigators as a Texas-based developer, was the main financier of the scheme.
Faal told the FBI he had served in the U.S. Army and Air Force and decided to join the coup because he thought elections were rigged and he was concerned over the “plight of the Gambian people,” according to the affidavit.
The group carried M4 semi-automatic rifles, night-vision goggles, body armor and other equipment. Mr. Njie, from Texas, was expected to serve as the next leader.
“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.
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 against the territory of any foreign prince or state, district or people with whom the United States is at peace.”
Mr. Jammeh himself came to power in a coup in 1994, from his position as a 29-year-old junior officer. He has ruled undemocratically, with foreign observers condemning all four of the elections held in Gambia during his 20-year reign. During the last vote, in 2011, Gambia’s West African neighbors refused to send monitors, citing “an opposition and electorate cowed by repression and intimidation.” w/pix of Pres. Y. Jammeh