Gambia says former presidential guard chief led coup attempt


Gambia’s government on Wednesday accused the former head of the West African nation’s presidential guard of leading a small group, including two former U.S. soldiers, in a failed attempt to oust President Yahya Jammeh last month.

Officials in the United States have already arrested and charged two men – a Texas businessman and an Afghanistan war veteran – of involvement in the plot and are continuing their investigation.

In a statement read on state-owned television, Gambia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Neneh Macdouall-Gaye named nine men she said had mounted the early morning assault on the presidential palace in the capital Banjul on Dec. 30.

They were led by Lieutenant-Colonel Lamin Sanneh, who had once headed the elite State Guard before being dismissed and fleeing abroad, and included retired U.S. Army Captain Njaga Jagne and Papa Faal, a former U.S. Army sergeant, she said.

Most of the other assailants named were identified as active and former members of Gambia’s security forces.

Sanneh had been broadly cited in local media as the plot’s leader, but Wednesday’s statement was the first time the government named him publicly and offered a detailed version of the attack.

Sanneh and Jagne were among four plotters killed when palace guards fought back, ultimately repelling the attack. One of the attackers was taken prisoner.

Faal and the other survivors of the assault fled. He and Cherno Njie, who had been waiting with other plotters 25 km (16 miles) outside Banjul, were charged by U.S. federal prosecutors on Monday with conspiring to carry out a coup and a weapons violation.
“The team was awaiting the taking over of the State House by the attackers and for the proposed leader, Cherno M. Njie, to take over the reins of power,” the government statement said.

Both Faal and Njie are U.S. citizens with ties to Gambia.

After the plot was put down, Gambian authorities seized heavy machine guns, assault rifles, pistols, night vision goggles and other military and communications equipment, the government said.

Jammeh, 49, took power in a coup 20 years ago and since then has stifled dissent in his impoverished West African nation of 1.9 million.

A failed coup plot in 2006 led to a crackdown and some executions, according to rights groups. He has faced increasing criticism from abroad over issues ranging from human rights to his claim he can cure AIDS.