Two US citizens charged with plotting to overthrow Gambian government
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.