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Press Release

Two Defendants Charged For Their Role In An Attempted Coup In The Gambia

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Minnesota

Defendants Charged with Conspiracy to Violate the Neutrality Act and Conspiracy to Possess Firearms in Furtherance of a Crime of Violence

United States Attorney General Eric Holder, United States Attorney for the District of Minnesota Andrew M. Luger, Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, and Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge of the Minneapolis Division Richard T. Thornton today announced a criminal complaint charging CHERNO NJIE, 57, and PAPA FAAL, 46, for their role in a recent attempted coup in The Gambia. Both men are in custody and are expected to have initial appearances in court today. NJIE will appear in United States District Court in Baltimore, Maryland.  FAAL will appear in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Both defendants are charged with conspiring to violate the Neutrality Act by making an expedition against a friendly nation from the United States and conspiring to possess firearms in furtherance of a crime of violence. 1

On December 30, 2014, there was an unsuccessful attempted coup against the government of The Gambia. The Gambia is a country in West Africa bordered by Senegal and the Atlantic Ocean.

“These defendants stand accused of conspiring to carry out the violent overthrow of a foreign government, in violation of U.S. law,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “The United States strongly condemns such conspiracies. With these serious charges, the United States is committed to holding them fully responsible for their actions.”

United States Attorney for the District of Minnesota Andrew M. Luger said: “This case would not be possible without the dedication of prosecutors around the country and FBI agents around the world, who worked non-stop to uncover evidence of the plot to overthrow the Gambian government. My office will continue to work cooperatively with our law enforcement partners here and abroad to bring these defendants to justice.”

FBI Special Agent in Charge for the Minneapolis Division Richard T. Thornton said: “This investigation reinforces the continued success of the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force in Minneapolis. The FBI, along with its many task force partners, remains committed to disrupting and preventing political violence no matter what form it takes.”

According to the criminal complaint and documents filed in court, in December 2014, CHERNO NJIE and PAPA FAAL separately traveled from the United States to The Gambia for the purpose of overthrowing the Gambian government. FAAL is a dual U.S./Gambian citizen and a resident of Minnesota. NJIE, a U.S. citizen of Gambian descent and a resident of Texas, is a businessman who served as financier and leader of the conspiracy. NJIE and his co-conspirators expected that NJIE would have served as the interim leader of the Gambia had the coup attempt succeeded.

According to the criminal complaint, approximately 10-12 members of the conspiracy entered The Gambia to carry out the coup attempt, with the expectation that others in the country would join and assist them. Prior to departing for The Gambia, between August and October 2014, FAAL and other co-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.

According to the criminal complaint, on December 30, 2014, a number of the co-conspirators, including FAAL, met in the woods near the State House in Banjul, which is the home of the Gambian President, and split into two assault teams. NJIE was not present at that meeting, instead waiting in a safe place until the assault teams took control of the facility. 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, FAAL was able to flee the scene and he ultimately returned to the U.S. NJIE also returned to the U.S. Both men have since been arrested.

The criminal complaint (including the affidavit) is attached as a pdf document.

This investigation is being led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and its partners on Joint Terrorism Task Forces in multiple field offices. U.S. Attorney Luger commended the many agents, analysts, and prosecutors in multiple offices who are responsible for this ongoing investigation.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Kovats of the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota is prosecuting this case, with assistance from Richard Scott, a Deputy Chief in the Counterespionage Section of the Justice Department's National Security Division. A number of other U.S. Attorney’s Offices, including those in the District of Maryland and the Western District of Texas provided critical support during the investigation.

Defendant Information:

Austin, Tex.

• Conspiracy to violate the Neutrality Act, 1 count
• Conspiracy to possess a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, 1 count

Brooklyn Center, Minn.

• Conspiracy to violate the Neutrality Act, 1 count
• Conspiracy to possess a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, 1 count

Complaint and Affidavit

1 The charges contained in the criminal complaint are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The charges are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Updated September 21, 2015