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U.S. Charges 2 Americans Over Attempted Coup In The Gambia

Residents walk on an empty street in Banjul Gambia, Tuesday, Dec. 30. Heavy gunfire rang out Tuesday near the presidential palace, raising the specter of a coup attempt.
Jason Florio
Residents walk on an empty street in Banjul Gambia, Tuesday, Dec. 30. Heavy gunfire rang out Tuesday near the presidential palace, raising the specter of a coup attempt.

You may have seen a minor headline last week, saying the United States denied any involvement in a failed coup attempt in The Gambia.

Today, we're getting a bit of insight into what actually happened there.

The Justice Department said it arrested and charged two Americans who allegedly planned and then unsuccessfully tried to carry out a coup against President Yahya Jammeh.

Cherno Njie, a 57-year-old Gambian-American from Texas, and Papa Faal, a 46-year-old Gambian-American from Minnesota, are charged with conspiracy to violate the Neutrality Act, which makes it illegal for a U.S. citizen to take up arms against a nation friendly to the United States.

According to a criminal complaint filed in a federal court in Minnesota, after the failed coup attempt Faal sought refuge at the United States Embassy in Dakar, Senegal. Later, when he arrived in the United States, he told investigators a tale worthy of a Hollywood script. It was a story of a dozen or so unprepared men fumbling through an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to depose the leader of a tiny West African country.

Here's how it went down according to the complaint:

-- Faal, who says he served in the U.S. military, was recruited by Njie, a businessman who had plans to become Gambia's next leader. Faal agreed to join the plan because he was disenchanted with the way "the president was rigging elections."

-- The men began their planning in the summer of 2014, giving each other code names: Faal was "Fox" and Njie was "Dave."

-- Soon enough, the group, which numbered about a dozen, organized conference calls where they discussed their plans and then they started buying weapons.

Members of the conspiracy, the criminal complaint states, bought more than a dozen M4 and AKM firearms, body armor and ammunition and shipped them to Gambia.

-- The plan was all set by the time Faal left for Senegal on Dec. 3, 2014. They decided the best way to wrest control of the country from President Jammeh was to ambush his convoy as he moved across the country.

-- The men thought they wouldn't even have to kill anyone, because Jammeh's security team would not die for him. So the plan was to simply fire their weapons in the air.

"They hoped the President would surrender, but were willing to shoot him if he fired at them," the complaint reads.

-- Of course, all their plans were disrupted when they found out the Gambian president was leaving the country on Dec. 26, 2014. The group abandoned their plan to ambush the convoy and instead decided to attack the State House. Njie was to stay at a safe place until he was ready to take the presidency.

-- We'll let the criminal complaint take it from here:

-- Faal and Njie are now in the Untied States. Investigators searched Faal's home in Texas and found a manilla folder with the words "top secret" handwritten and underlined in black. Inside were images from Google maps. The agent giving the affidavit writes in a footnote: "Your affiant has no reason to believe these images are classified U.S. Government information."

For your reading pleasure, here's the full criminal complaint:

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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