Three Gambian-Americans who tried unsuccessfully in 2014 to overthrow Yahya Jammeh, the dictator of the West African nation, were sentenced to prison by a federal judge in St. Paul on Thursday, while a fourth man, Papa Faal, who lives in Brooklyn Park, will not go to prison.
Faal, 47, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle to “time served,” meaning no prison time, plus two years of supervised release.
After his arrest last year, Faal spent one month and 17 days in jail and two weeks in a halfway house.
Asked about his reaction to the sentence, Faal said, “It’s really mixed. I wanted jail time. We had a team. If one goes to jail, we all go together. … I feel bad for my friends.”
All four men had earlier pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the federal Neutrality Act and firearms violations.
All four, however, got significantly lower sentences than the U.S. attorney’s office had sought. Prosecutors had asked that Faal receive 51 months
Cherno Njie, 58, of Lakeway, Texas, was sentenced to a year and a day and a $10,000 fine, while prosecutors asked for 63 months. Alagie Barrow, 43, of La Vergne, Tenn., and Banka Manneh, 43, of Jonesboro, Ga., each received six-month prison terms. The U.S. attorney’s office wanted Barrow to receive 41 months and Manneh 63 months.
The four men had plotted a coup against Jammeh, who has a notorious record of human rights abuses, including torture, suppression of dissent and the disappearance of people his regime suspects of opposing him. The U.S. has strongly criticized the regime’s human rights record, but also condemned the Dec. 30, 2014, coup attempt.
In a statement filed in the case, David Wharton, principal deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs, wrote that “the coup attempt interfered with U.S. foreign policy toward The Gambia and endangered U.S. interests” and also that it “endangered the safety of U.S. citizens in Gambia.”
The coup was an abject failure.
When the plotters tried to seize the State House in Banjul, the capital, soldiers opened fire, killing three of the plotters. The co-defendants fled to Senegal before returning to the U.S.
Faal provided a full statement to the FBI, implicating himself and others. Njie, a Texas real estate developer, acknowledged in court that he financed the expedition.
At a pre-sentence hearing on Tuesday, Njie said he only agreed to support the coup after he had been informed by another plotter, Lamin Sanneh, that a U.S. military attache at the U.S. Embassy in Senegal said the U.S. government backed the planned coup. Sanneh was killed in the attack he had helped coordinate.
All four men told the judge that they realized later that they broke U.S. federal law and that they would not try it again. But Faal said in a brief interview after the sentencing that “had we succeeded, the [U.S.] government would be praising us.”
Before the sentencing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Kovats told the judge: “The United States can’t have people in this country conspiring to take over the government of another country” by raising “a private army” and “it doesn’t matter” if it’s in Sweden or in Iraq.