Jan 5, 2015 1:58 PM

2 men charged in US in attempted Gambia coup

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) Two men have been charged in the United States with conspiring to help overthrow the government in the tiny West African nation of Gambia, federal prosecutors said Monday.

Both men, U.S. citizens of Gambian descent, were in custody and were expected to make court appearances Monday in Baltimore and Minneapolis.

The charges stem from a Dec. 30 coup attempt in the former British colony, which came as the longtime ruler was away. Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, who has since returned to the country, blamed "terrorist groups" for the coup attempt and alleged that plotters had received backing from foreign countries.

Human rights activists have long criticized the Gambian government for targeting political opponents, journalists and gays and lesbians. The U.S. government recently removed Gambia from a trade agreement in response to human rights abuses, including a law signed in October that imposes life imprisonment for some homosexual acts.

Prosecutors say the two men, Cherno Njie and Papa Faal, traveled separately from the United States to Gambia to participate in the unrest there. They later returned to the U.S. and are now in custody.

Faal, 46, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Gambia who lives in Minnesota, told investigators that in August he joined a group of fighters in the United States bent on overthrowing the government. He said he was motivated to be part of the group out of concern that elections were being rigged and for "the plight of the Gambian people," according to court papers.

Prosecutors say he purchased semi-automatic rifles in Minnesota that were then shipped by cargo ship to Gambia.

Faal told the authorities that the group was composed of men of Gambian descent who primarily lived in the U.S. and Germany, and most had military experience, prosecutors say. The group hoped to take control of the government without having to kill Gambians, and though its members initially planned on ambushing the president's convoy, they changed plans and decided to attack the Gambian State House, court papers allege.

After members of the group were defeated at the State House, Faal escaped by ferry to neighboring Senegal, where he walked into the U.S. Embassy and spoke to U.S. officials. He gave the FBI permission to search his home in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, prosecutors say.

Faal identified Njie, a 57-year-old citizen of Gambian descent who lives in Austin Texas, as one of the financiers and leaders of the coup.

Njie was arrested Sunday after flying into Dulles International Airport from Senegal. A woman who answered the phone at Njie's Austin address and identified herself as Njie's wife declined comment.

It wasn't immediately clear whether the two men had lawyers.


Emily Schmall in Fort Worth, Texas contributed to this report.

Follow Eric Tucker on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/etuckerAP


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