2 Americans Charged in Failed Coup Attempt In Gambia

PHOTO: In this Feb. 27, 2014 file photo, Gambias President Yahya Jammeh arrives for a summit to address a seminar on security, Abuja, Nigeria. Sunday Alamba/AP Photo
In this Feb. 27, 2014 file photo, Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh arrives for a summit to address a seminar on security, Abuja, Nigeria.

Two Americans were behind a bloody coup attempt last week in the West African nation of Gambia, the Justice Department charged today.

But this was not some covert CIA "black op." The alleged masterminds were two private, U.S. citizens of Gambian descent from Minnesota and Texas who were trying to take down the government in their homeland. The plot ended in gunfire Dec. 30 in the woods near the State House in Banjul, which is the home of the Gambian president, Yahya Jammeh.

The Justice Department today filed charges against Cherno Njie, 57, of Austin, Texas, and Papa Faal, 46, of Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, for their alleged roles in the attempted coup. Faal is a dual citizen of Gambia and the United States. Njie is a U.S. citizen who is charged with being the leader of the coup conspiracy.

Njie and his co-conspirators apparently believed that the population would rally to their cause, and expected that Njie would serve as the interim leader of Gambia if the coup attempt succeeded. A deposition filed by an FBI agent in the case says that Faal is a veteran of the U.S. Army, and had not lived in Gambia for 23 years. Njie is described as a Texas businessman who financed the alleged plot. Both men returned to the United after the incident, and now are in custody and were expected to have initial appearances in court today.

The alleged plot was hatched last summer when the two men allegedly bought weapons and equipment here in the United States -- including M4 semi-automatic rifles, night-vision goggles, body armor, ammunition, black military style uniform pants and boots – and shipped them to co-conspirators in Gambia, according to the charging documents. Then Njie and Faal traveled to Gambia, and allegedly organized a dozen-man team to launch an armed assault on the State House.

The Justice Department says the attack did not go well:

"When one of the assault teams approached the State House and fired a shot into the air, the team began taking heavy fire from the guard towers. 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 U.S. Njie also returned to the U.S."

It is unclear how many died in the assault.

Court documents reveal that a search of the two suspects’ homes after the coup turned up maps of the State House grounds and documents labeled "Top Secret." The documents detailed plans for a two-team assault on the State House, and designated the code names "Fox" and "Dave" for Faal and Njie, the documents state.

The suspects allegedly told investigators that they wanted to overthrow President Jammeh to bring democracy back to Gambia. Jammeh seized control of the nation of 2 million in 1994, and critics charge he has ruthlessly stamped out any opposition to his rule.

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

Njie will appear in United States District Court today in Baltimore. Faal will appear in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis. Both defendants are charged with conspiring to violate the Neutrality Act by making an expedition against a friendly nation from the United States and conspiring to possess firearms in furtherance of a crime of violence.