Papa Faal, a 46-year-old Brooklyn Center resident, smuggled guns and military supplies into the African nation of The Gambia in a poorly planned coup attempt that got most of his conspirators killed, according to charges filed today by U.S. Attorney Andy Luger.
Faal escaped the failed attack on The Gambia's state house on December 30, but was promptly arrested upon his return to the United States, along with a man from Texas. They are both facing charges of conspiracy to violate the neutrality act and conspiracy to possess a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence.
According to the charges:
Faal joined a small movement to overthrow Gambian President Yayah Jammeh in August 2014 because he had become disenchanted with the way Jammeh was rigging elections and he was concerned about the plight of the Gambian people. Faal hadn't lived in Gambia for 23 years, but he still has family in the country and his group had planned on a much larger force of Gambia's military joining them in the cause, which never materialized.
"There are definitely reasons to dislike the Gambian government but it seems like this group had some pretty questionable connections to act on those grievances," said Jeremy Youde, a political science professor specializing in African politics at the University of Minnesota Duluth. "I would say, after hearing some of the reports and hearing what he had to say, Jammeh wasn't too threatened by this."
Faal, who told FBI investigators he has 10 years of experience serving in the United States Air Force and Army, bought eight semiautomatic M4 rifles and had them sent along with night vision goggles and other military supplies on a ship to Gambia.
A crew of 10-12 assembled in Gambia and planned to take out the president when he was traveling during the Christmas/New Year holiday week. The plan originally was to block the president's motorcade, fire shots into the air, causing his bodyguards to flee, then get the president to surrender.
Not surprisingly, it didn't work out like that.
The president left the country December 26, so the motorcade takeover was out. The group of 10-12 (Faal said he thought the group was going to be much bigger) decided to continue with the coup anyway and drew up a plan to storm the Gambian state house, where the president lives, when he was out of town.
They split into two teams. The "Alpha" team tried to scare guards at the building's entrance into submission by shooting into the air. The guards were not scared:
"Instead the group began taking heavy fire from the guard towers. The Alpha team attempted to breach the door of the State House. Faal believes all members of the Alpha Team members were killed," writes Special Agent Nicolas L. Marshall in the charges.
Faal, who was code named Fox, was in the "Bravo" team in charge of securing the back door. Faal said he fled after watching one of his fellow Bravo team members die.
He changed into new clothes in a nearby building and took a ferry to neighboring Senegal the next day, where he sought out the U.S. embassy in Dakar.
Agents debriefed him in Dakar and again the next day, January 1, in Washington, D.C. When agents in Minnesota searched his house in Brooklyn Park they found Google Maps satellite images of where the attempted coup took place in a manila folder labeled "Top Secret," manuals for AR-15 assault rifles, and receipts for 55-gallon barrels.
On January 3 federal agents arrested Cherno Njie in Washington, D.C. Njie, a 57-year-old Texas businessman, allegedly financed the whole operation and was set to take over for the Gambian president if the coup was successful. He declined to speak to authorities after he was arrested, unlike Faal.
Gambian President Jammeh has come under fire recently for human rights violations including crackdowns on protesters, journalists, and the GLBT community, according to Youde.
"[The Gambia] has a lot of trappings of a regular democracy," said Youde. "They hold regular elections, they do have opposition political parties, a constitution, five-year presidential terms, but that's just kind of on the surface. When you look at the actual substance of what's going on, Jammeh basically has the ability to rule however he wants, there's no meaningful check on his power."
Send news tips to Ben Johnson.