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2 Americans Face Charges Over Gambia Coup Attempt


The Justice Department has charged two U.S. citizens with attempting to overthrow the government of the tiny West African nation of The Gambia. The charges stem from a December 30 coup attempt. As NPR's Jackie Northam reports, the two men charged are of Gambian descent but have not lived there for decades.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: The criminal complaint against Papa Faal and Cherno Njie reveals a coup plot that ripples of naivete, brazen moves and last-minute changes. The 46-year-old Faal is a resident of Minnesota. The 57-year-old Njie lives in Austin, Texas. The Justice Department says the two were among about a dozen men who not only hatched plans to overthrow The Gambia's government, but they discussed it over conference calls and through email.

The alleged plan was to ambush President Yayha Jammeh as he drove around The Gambia. What they didn't plan on was the president being out of the country at the time. The alleged coup plotters then switched plans and tried to attack the president's office instead, believing that Gambian armed forces guarding the building would drop their weapons and flee. Instead, they came under heavy fire. Several were killed, and others ran away. Jeffrey Smith, an Africa specialist at the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, says he's not surprised those trying to overthrow Jammeh were willing to take the risk.

JEFFREY SMITH: I think it speaks to the desperation of people both outside the country and those people inside the country. And I think this attempt is really born out of two decades of frustration and really people yearning for any sort of change that would displace the world's most ruthless dictator that most people probably have not heard of.

NORTHAM: Smith says The Gambia has of the worst human rights records in Africa. And yet the criminal complaint says the U.S. considers The Gambia a friendly nation. Jen Psaki is a State Department spokesperson.

JEN PSAKI: Of course with any country, including The Gambia, we - when we have concerns about human rights issues, we express them.

NORTHAM: After the foiled coup attempt, Faal gave himself up in neighboring Senegal. Njie was arrested as he returned to the U.S. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.