Senior Airman Papa Faal, a 459th Military Personnel Flight relocations specialist, became a U.S. citizen on December 6, 2005. He is originally from The Gambia, a small West African country covering an area of no more than 4,400 square miles. Papa Faal, a resident of Brooklyn Park, Minn., is among a half-dozen Gambian expatriates living in the United States who have been charged or accused of returning to their West African homeland in December to lead a failed coup attempt against the Gambia’s long-serving ruler, Yahya Jammeh. Faal has pleaded guilty to his involvement in federal court. He is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Army. (Credit: Capt. Nikki Credic/ US Air Force)

(JollofNews) – A United States federal judge in St. Pauls, Minnesota, Thursday sentenced four US-based Gambian men for their involvement in the December 2014 ill-fated plot to overthrow the Gambian regime of President Yahya Jammeh.

Cherno Njie, Papa Faal, Banka Manneh and Alagie Saidy Barrow had all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the Neutrality Act and conspiracy to possess a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence.

Njie was sentenced to one year and one day, three years probation and a US$10,000 fine. Faal was sentenced to time served over the last year. Barrow received six months in prison and three years probation while Manneh received six months in prison, three years probation and US$200 fine.

Cherno M. Njie
Cherno M. Njie

The men who are the first to be prosecuted in 35 years by US authorities for violating the country’s Neutrality Act had all faced maximum penalties of up to 20 years in prison.

The coup saga in the Gambia unfolded during the early hours of December 30, 2014 Njie, Barrow, Faal and nine others entered the Gambia to carry out the coup attempt, with the expectation that others in the country would join and assist them.

But as they attempted to storm the state house they were met with heavy gunfire from security forces, squashing the coup, and killing at least four assailants.

Investigations by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and its partners on Joint Terrorism Task Forces in multiple field offices later revealed that prior to departing for the Gambia, between August and October 2014, the conspirators purchased multiple firearms, including M4 semi-automatic rifles, and shipped them to the Gambia for use in the coup attempt. Members of the conspiracy also acquired night-vision goggles, body armor, ammunition, black military style uniform pants, boots, and other personal equipment.

Njaga Jagne
Njaga Jagne was among the conspirators killed in the gunfire

It is estimated that over US$200,000 was spent on ammunition. Most of the resources were provided by Cherno Njie, an Austin based Gambian born millionaire , who  bankrolled the coup attempt. Court documents say the conspirators’ plan was for Mr Njie to take power if the coup succeeded.

The FBI added that on 30th December 2014, a number of the co-conspirators, including Faal and Barrow, met in the woods near the State House in Banjul, which is the home of the Gambian president, and split into two assault teams.  While the men headed for Banjul, Barrow and Njie who has no military experience stayed in a safe house.

However, when one of the assault teams approached the State House and fired a shot into the air, the team began taking heavy fire from the guard towers.

Although numerous conspirators on the assault teams were killed or injured during the failed attempt to take control of the government building, Njie, Barrow and Faal were able to flee the Gambia and ultimately returned to the US where they were  arrested and charged.

Prosecutors added that while Banka Manneh did not travel to the Gambia, searches on his computer, phone and other documents that were seized after FBI agents raided his house revealed that he “participated in conference calls and exchanged planning documents with the other members of the conspiracy,” and “purchased two pistols and one rifle to equip co-conspirators participating in the coup.”

Manneh was designated to serve as the international spokesman for the group.