An Austin area man of Gambian descent and three other naturalized Americans were sentenced in a Minneapolis federal court Thursday after a failed attempt to overthrow the Gambian national government via coup in 2014. The conspirators were financed and led by Cherno Njie of Lakeway, Texas.
Njie is set to begin a 366 day prison term, while co-conspirators Alagie Barrow, 43, of Lavergne, Tennessee, and Banke Manneh, 43, of Jonesboro, Georgia will each spend six months behind bars, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
“Regardless of the legitimacy of their personal and emotional connections to The Gambia, these men placed countless innocents in harm’s way when they engaged in a brazen and fatally flawed attempt at regime change,” United States Attorney Andrew M. Luger said in a release.
The failed expedition netted to a two-count indictment for conspiracy to violate the Neutrality Act and possession of firearms in furtherance of the Act violation, according to court documents obtained by Breitbart Texas. Federal law prohibits expeditions against a “territory or dominion of any foreign prince or state, or of any colony, district, or people with whom the United State is at peace”. Those found in violation could face fines and prison time.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began to unravel the failed coup in December 2014 after a Minnesota resident sought to contact the U.S. Embassy in Senegal upon escaping The Gambia. Papa Faal, a 46-year-old American military veteran cooperated with the FBI and was later sentenced to time served.
Faal, codenamed “Fox”, told federal investigators that he joined the small coalition of dissidents over concerns that Gambian government officials were “rigging elections” and worried about the well-being of relatives still resident in the West African nation. Faal would later connect with Austin area businessman Cherno Njie, codenamed “Dave”, who had grand designs of financing a coup and standing as “the leader of The Gambia” thereafter. The Texan explained to his colleagues that after their guerrilla attack on the State House, he would then convince the Gambian Army brass to “support the change in leadership.”
Njie provided each member of the conspiracy thousands of dollars to acquire firearms, tactical gear and cover emergent expenses once in country to conduct their mission. Faal told the FBI most or all members had previous military service records in the U.S. or Africa. Court records indicate that Faal and others each purchased eight Colt AR-15s and AKM semi-automatic rifles in Minnesota, stashing them in 50 gallon drums with clothing and other items to be placed on freighters by dummy companies, bound for The Gambia. Faal claimed that a total of 30 firearms, plus ammunition, body armor, night vision goggles and black military style uniforms were successfully transported from the United States.
Njie and company organized their effort all over the phone – meeting in person for the first time in Gambia. Their lack of detailed preparation and too many tactical assumptions made an ocean away proved to be their downfall.
The original plan was to ambush President Yahya Jammeh’s travel detail during his assumed tour of the country around Christmas with a transitional government in place by New Year’s Day. Njie thought that simply firing warning shots over the motorcade would trigger enough bodyguards to flee, leaving a peaceful surrender likely or an on-the-spot execution of the president if needed. The plan collapsed when the team realized that the president would be out of country at the time of the planned mission.
Njie adjusted his tactics with an even bolder move: a full assault on the Gambian State House, banking on reinforcements to come from the local army battalion — inspired by the overthrow. “Alpha Team” was charged with equipping their rental car to breach the front door of the building and disarm the assumed scant number of guards on duty there. Planners believed that any guards left standing after the surprise entry would lay their weapons down out of a lack of desire to die for the regime. Faal and “Bravo Team” would secure the rear of the building and await friendly reinforcements from local forces.
On the day of the attack, Alpha Team’s rental car set for ramming speed was greeted by a reinforced State House complete with guard towers that quickly killed all passengers on approach. Faal and other members of Bravo dropped weapons and changed clothes to escape into the city center and eventually book passage to Senegal via ferry, where he would contact the U.S. State Department.
On January 3, 2015, FBI agents searched the Austin area premises of Njie, finding handwritten documents describing a “vision for The Gambia following a transition”; itemized operational budget spreadsheets for the attack; and a document entitled “Gambia Reborn: A Charter for Transition from Dictatorship to Democracy and Development”. Agents also found phone and passport numbers for the co-conspirators in Njie’s possession as well. The Texan’s business background was as a construction contractor for housing developments. That same day, he was arrested upon arrival at Washington Dulles International Airport.
The Justice Department’s noting of the “legitimacy” of the failed coup attempt is put into better perspective when one reviews the human rights record of Gambian President Jammeh, a former wrestler and military officer that seized power in a 1994 coup. The AFP reported in April that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the African nation to cease the incarceration of political opponents acting in peaceful protest to the regime.
The criminal case was prosecuted in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota. Copies of relevant court documents have been provided below.
Logan Churchwell is a founding member of the Breitbart Texas team. You can follow him on Twitter @LCChurchwell.