Federal Prosecutors Charge Two Individuals Under 18th Century Statute in Connection with Attempted Coup in African Nation

Two United States citizens were charged by federal prosecutors in connection with an attempted coup in The Gambia, a small nation in West Africa. According to the criminal complaint, one defendant directly participated in the attempt to overthrow The Gambia’s government, while the other was an alleged leader and financier of the plot. United States v. Njie, et al, No. 0:15-mj-00001-TNL-1, complaint (D. Minn., Jan. 5, 2015). Both defendants were charged with conspiracy to violate the Neutrality Act, a law originally passed in 1794 that prohibits Americans from preparing or financing an attack on a country with which the United States is at peace. 18 U.S.C. § 960. At least one of the defendants was also charged with conspiracy to violate arms export laws.

The Gambia is a small West African country located on the Atlantic coast. Its territory consists almost entirely of land on either side of its namesake, the Gambia River. Aside from its coastline, the country is bordered on all sides by Senegal. It gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1965, and has been ruled by President Yahya Jammeh since 1994, when he took power in a military coup. The Gambia and the United States have friendly relations, although the U.S. Department of State has expressed concerns over free and fair elections and alleged human rights abuses. Human rights activists have described The Gambia as one of the most authoritarian nations in Africa.

On December 30, 2014, gunfire reportedly broke out near the Gambian capital city, Banjul. President Jammeh was out of the country at the time. The U.S. and others have claimed that this was an attempted coup aimed at overthrowing Jammeh, with ten to twelve people entering the country expecting others to join them in a revolt. When this failed to happen, one of the defendants, Papa Faal, reportedly fled to Senegal and turned himself in to authorities at the U.S. embassy. He told the FBI that the other defendant, Cherno Njie, financed their activities and intended to be installed as the new president after the coup. Authorities arrested Njie at the airport upon his arrival in the U.S.

Both defendants were charged with conspiracy to violate the Neutrality Act, which can result in a prison sentence of up to three years. Prosecutors also formally charged Faal with conspiring to violate the Arms Export Control Act (AECA). United States v. Faal, No. 0:15-cr-00028-RHK-1, information (D. Minn., Jan. 29, 2015). The Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC), part of the Department of State, is authorized by the AECA to designate certain weapons and munitions as “defense articles,” and to prohibit individuals, businesses, and government entities from exporting those items without a license. 22 U.S.C. § 2278, 22 C.F.R. §§ 121.1, 123.1.

Faal is accused of purchasing eight M4 semiautomatic rifles in the U.S., which are classified as “defense articles” under the AECA. He then allegedly concealed them in barrels and shipped the barrels from the U.S. to The Gambia for use in the attempted coup, without obtaining a license from the DDTC. The government is authorized to prosecute this under 22 C.F.R. § 127.1.

For more than twenty years, criminal defense attorney Michael J. Brown has represented west Texas defendants in state and federal criminal cases. To schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case and see how we can assist you, please contact us today online or at (432) 687-5157.

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