On December 30, with President Yahyeh Jammeh conveniently out of the country, around a dozen gunmen – including Papa Faal, 46, a US military veteran and Cherno Njie, 57, a property developer from Austin, Texas – attacked State House, hoping to overwhelm the presidential guard with the M4 semi-automatic rifles that they had smuggled into the country.
Njie believed that members of the Gambian military, fed up with Jammeh’s two decades of autocratic rule, would support their cause. They didn’t, and the plotters were outgunned and outmanned, taking heavy casualties – including several deaths – before abandoning the attempt.
The President refuted media reports of an attempted coup d'état and disclosed that the attackers were backed by some anonymous countries.
He vowed to “live and die defending the truth and protecting the resources of The Gambia” against international forces’ of exploitation. The President made his first public statement on Wednesday evening barely 24 hours after the 30th December Attack.
Faal and Njie managed to escape. Faal sought refuge at the US embassy in neighbouring Senegal, and was returned to America. Njie’s route is less clear, but he also ended up back home in America – far away from Jammeh’s murderous vengeance, perhaps, but still in trouble. And no, murderous vengeance is not hyperbole: “…there is only one gone I will be happy about. That is, if they are gone to hell, yes, but anywhere else we are going to get them…it is going to be an eye for an eye,” Jammeh said of the coup leaders.
US prosecutors have opted to try the pair, both US citizens, under a little used piece of legislation called the Neutrality Act, which expressly forbids US citizens from participating in private military operations abroad. It was last used in 2007 to indict Vang Pao, a US citizen accused of plotting to overthrow the government of Laos (after intense public pressure, these charges were later dropped). The maximum sentence under this legislation is three years in jail, or a fine.
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