Two US citizens charged with plotting to overthrow Gambian government

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Gambia Leader Blames Dissidents for Coup Bid

By RYAN GORMAN

Two American citizens have been charged with plotting to overthrow the government of a small African country.

Former U.S. Army and Air Force enlistee Papa Faal, 46, and businessman Cherno Njie, 57, stand accused of attempting to remove Gambian President Yahya Jammeh from power, according to an FBI indictment obtained by AOL News.

Faal, from Texas, and Njie from Minnesota, are both of Gambian origin but have roots in the West African nation. They are named as co-conspirators in a plot resembling that of a Hollywood movie.

Both are alleged to have been part of an armed December 30 rebellion at the State House that involved about a dozen men.

Some of the men were also from the United Kingdom, all were of Gambian descent.

The group met in the woods about a half mile from the capitol, changed into all-black clothing, strapped on body armor, night goggles and were locked and loaded as they rumbled towards their plot's zenith in rented cars, Faal told authorities.

They were split into two teams: Alpha and Bravo.

Alpha team believed that firing a single shot into the air would cause government soldiers guarding the building to flee. They instead fired on and completely wiped out the six-person insurgent unit, Faal admitted.

Bravo team ran around back with the belief that once both groups secured the building, 160 Gambian soldiers sympathetic to their cause would charge in as support, Faal told investigators.

A member of the Bravo team was also gunned down while trying to ram the rented car through a rear door to the building.

The expected battalion of soldiers never showed. No explanation has been given.

Faal claims to have fled to a nearby building and shed all commando gear and weapons before attempting to escape to Senegal.

Upon arrival in Senegal, Faal was denied entry because he did not have a Gambian exit stamp on his passport, he recalled to investigators.

He returned to Gambia, somehow obtained the exit stamp and then remarkably took the same ferry back to Senegal and was permitted entry.

Faal, who went by the codename "Fox," believed his team would be joined by as many as 160 Gambian soldiers. That support never materialized.

Njie was the businessman who funded the failed coup and was to be installed as leader, according to the affidavit.

Each member of the mercenary unit was paid $4,000 to cover expenses while in Gambia, which is situated between Senegal and Guinea-Bisseau, on Africa's Atlantic Ocean coastline.

The soldiers of fortune wanted to "restore democracy ... without having to kill any Gambians," Faal told investigators.

Jammeh has maintained an iron-fisted grip on power since taking over following a 1994 coup, mainly through rigged elections, according to Faal.

Faal explained to federal agents that he purchased weapons in the U.S. including eight M4 semi-automatic rifles and shipped them to Africa in 50-gallon barrels stuffed with clothes in order to conceal them.

Njie secured body armor, and ammunition and shipped it to Gambia.

The group arrived in Gambia on December 3 and conducted several "mental dry runs" of their plot, in which they planned to ambush the country's leader during his Christmas and New Year travel plans.

They initially planned only to fire shots into the air to scare off his body guards and expressed a desire for the president to surrender without violence, but were prepared to shoot him if necessary, Faal said.

Upon discovering Jammeh was leaving the country December 26, the commandos changed their plan to simply overrun government buildings in his absence.

The path of least resistance was fatally flawed.

Faal surrendered to U.S. Embassy authorities in Dakar, Senegal, soon after disembarking the ferry.

A January 1 search of his Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, apartment resulted in the discovery of a folder with the words "top secret" written on the front in bold black marker.

Among the top secret materials were Google satellite images of Banjul, receipts for the 50-gallon drums and firearm manuals, said the affidavit.

A search of Njie's homes in and around Austin, Texas turned up several items including a handwritten note asking several questions related to the overthrow of a government and planned transition to civilian rule, the documents revealed.

A spreadsheet detailing weapons costs, a document titled "Gambia Reborn: A Charter for Transition to dictatorship to Democracy and Development," and documents containing Faal's personal info were also found.

"These defendants stand accused of conspiring to carry out the violent overthrow of a foreign government, in violation of US law," U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.

"The United States strongly condemns such conspiracies. With these serious charges, the United States is committed to holding them fully responsible for their actions," he added.

Both men have been charged with conspiring against a friendly nation and to possess firearms.

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Two US citizens charged with plotting to overthrow Gambian government
President of Gambia Al Hadji Yahya Jammeh addresses the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly September 25, 2014 at the United Nations in New York. AFP PHOTO/Don Emmert (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Residents walk on an empty street in Banjul Gambia, Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014. Heavy gunfire rang out Tuesday near the presidential palace in the tiny West African nation of Gambia, residents said, raising the specter of a coup attempt while the longtime ruler is out of the country. Yahya Jammeh, who came to power in a 1994 coup when he was 29 years old, left the capital of Banjul for France on Saturday, state media reported. On Tuesday, soldiers linked to his presidential guard were believed to be involved in the fighting, according to witnesses who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. (AP Photo/Jason Florio)
Residents walk on an empty street in Banjul Gambia, Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014. Heavy gunfire rang out Tuesday near the presidential palace in the tiny West African nation of Gambia, residents said, raising the specter of a coup attempt while the longtime ruler is out of the country. Yahya Jammeh, who came to power in a 1994 coup when he was 29 years old, left the capital of Banjul for France on Saturday, state media reported. On Tuesday, soldiers linked to his presidential guard were believed to be involved in the fighting, according to witnesses who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. (AP Photo/Jason Florio)
Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh arrives at the Elysee palace to participate in the Elysee summit for peace and safety in Africa, on December 6, 2013 in Paris. AFP PHOTO/ ALAIN JOCARD (Photo credit should read ALAIN JOCARD/AFP/Getty Images)
A giant billboard of Gambia President, Yahya Jammeh, sit on an empty street during rush hour in Banjul Gambia, Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2014. Heavy gunfire rang out Tuesday near the presidential palace in the tiny West African nation of Gambia, residents said, raising the specter of a coup attempt while the longtime ruler is out of the country. Yahya Jammeh, who came to power in a 1994 coup when he was 29 years old, left the capital of Banjul for France on Saturday, state media reported. On Tuesday, soldiers linked to his presidential guard were believed to be involved in the fighting, according to witnesses who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. (AP Photo)
(From L-R): Ghanaian President John Kufuor, US President George W. Bush, Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, and Sierra-Leonean President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah chat 08 July 2003, at the Presidential Palace in Dakar. Bush arrived in Senegal on Tuesday, launching a five-nation African tour, with his deliberations over wether to send troops to Liberia overshadowing his drive to combat AIDS, poverty and terrorism. AFP PHOTO/SEYLLOU (Photo credit should read SEYLLOU DIALLO/AFP/GettyImages)
Gambian incumbent Yahya Jammeh speaks to journalists on November 24, 2011 as he leaves a polling station in the capital Banjul after voting in the presidential elections. Gambians voted on November 24 in polls, which some observers said were skewed in favor of Jammeh, who heaped scorn on criticism that his regime is repressive. The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) withdrew plans to send observers for the election, saying Jammeh's control of the media and intimidation of voters meant polls in the continent's smallest country could not be 'free, fair and transparent'. AFP PHOTO / SEYLLOU (Photo credit should read SEYLLOU/AFP/Getty Images)
A giant billboard of Gambia President Yahya Jammeh sits on an empty street in Banjul Gambia, Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2014. Heavy gunfire rang out Tuesday near the presidential palace in the tiny West African nation of Gambia, residents said, raising the specter of a coup attempt while the longtime ruler is out of the country. Yahya Jammeh, who came to power in a 1994 coup when he was 29 years old, left the capital of Banjul for France on Saturday, state media reported. On Tuesday, soldiers linked to his presidential guard were believed to be involved in the fighting, according to witnesses who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. (AP Photo)
Incumbent president Yahya Jammeh greets militants during his closing rally on November 22, 2011 in Gambia. Dressed in his typical garb of billowing white robes, clutching prayer beads and a sceptre, Jammeh greeted the crowd of orderly and adoring supporters, all perfectly decked out in party colours. AFP PHOTO/SEYLLOU (Photo credit should read SEYLLOU/AFP/Getty Images)
FILE - In this Saturday, July 1, 2006 file photo, people stand on balconies near a large banner depicting Gambian President Yahya Jammeh on a building serving as a media center in Banjul, Gambia. The West African nation announced Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013 that it is withdrawing from the Commonwealth, a collection of 54 nations made up largely of former British colonies, saying it will "never be a member of any neo-colonial institution." (AP Photo/ George Osodi, File)
Serekunda, GAMBIA: Gambia's President and leader of the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction party, Yahya Jammeh, speaks during a presidential campaign meeting 20 September 2006 in Serekunda. Gambians go to the polls 22 September 2006 in a presidential vote expected to give incumbent Yahya Jammeh a third term as head of this tiny West African state, in the face of a weak opposition. AFP PHOTO SEYLLOU (Photo credit should read SEYLLOU/AFP/Getty Images)
Bakau, GAMBIA: Election officials set up marbles on a board to count the votes after the presidential elections in Bakau early 22 September 2006. Early results today showed Yahya Jammeh, who seized power in a coup 12 years ago, was on track to win a third term as president of mainland Africa's smallest country. Jammeh has won in 12 of the 48 voting regions to have reported provisional results from yesterday's presidential election, according to the results released by the commission over national television and radio.AFP PHOTO SEYLLOU (Photo credit should read SEYLLOU/AFP/Getty Images)
Banjul residents wait in line to cast their votes in Gambia's presidential elections inside an abandoned cinema used as a polling station , in Banjul, Gambia Friday, Sept. 22, 2006. Gambians voted for president Friday, dropping a marble into a bin marked with their candidate's color, in elections that longtime President Yaya Jammeh is widely expected to win. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
President of the Republic of Gambia Yahya Jammeh speaks during the U.N. Millennium Summit at the United Nations, Friday, Sept. 8, 2000. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
BANJUL, GAMBIA - JUNE 24: A picture dated 24 June 1999 shows a car passing by the monument ericted in honour of President Yahya Jammeh in Banjul. Gunfire were heard near the presidential palace 17 January 2000 and Gambian Interior Minister Ousman Badjie appealed for calm as residents fled the capital on rumours of an impending coup. (Photo credit should read SEYLLOU/AFP/Getty Images)
BANJUL, GAMBIA: File picture dated June 1999 shows Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh, 36, waving and smiling during a meeting in Banjul, Gambia. President Yahya Jammeh won reelection in the first round of elections in the west African state of Gambia 19 October 2001, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) announced. Jammeh carried 52.96 percent of the vote following a relatively calm election, following controversy in the days leading to the vote when the opposition challenged a relaxation by the IEC of procedures to identify voters. (film) AFP PHOTO SEYLLOU DIALLO (Photo credit should read SEYLLOU DIALLO/AFP/Getty Images)
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