A Brooklyn Park man pleaded guilty Thursday to charges stemming from a failed attempt to topple the Gambian government.
Papa Faal, 46, a U.S. citizen and a veteran of the U.S. military, entered a guilty plea to charges of making a military expedition against a friendly nation and shipping weapons without the needed license.
Supporters in the Gambian community in Minnesota and beyond have hailed Faal as a hero and freedom fighter and have raised funds for his defense.
Federal sentencing guidelines call for a jail term from 51 to 63 months and a fine of $10,000 to $100,000, U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery told Faal. But Faal’s attorney, David Reyes, said he will seek a lighter sentence.
Cherno Njie, an Austin, Texas, real estate developer whom Faal identified as one of the men who had planned and financed the coup attempt, faces the same charges.
In Montgomery’s Minneapolis courtroom, Faal described how a group of Gambian expatriates recruited him in August to join an effort to overthrow Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, the tiny West African nation’s ruler of 20 years.
Faal, an outspoken critic of Jammeh’s government, left Gambia for the United States 23 years ago. An information technology consultant and instructor with two master’s degrees, he served for a decade in the U.S. Air Force and Army, including a 2011 deployment to Afghanistan.
With money from another conspirator, Faal bought eight semi-automatic rifles and shipped them to Gambia disguised among shoes and other articles in 50-gallon drums.
In December, he traveled to Gambia, where he met for the first time the dozen other members of the group. Their original plan, Faal said, was to ambush the president’s convoy.
But they later decided to take over the State House — the president’s official residence — while Jammeh was out of the country.
Faal said the participants expected that they would meet with little resistance from soldiers guarding the State House in the Dec. 30 takeover. “The intent was not to kill anybody, and that was understood by all the members,” Faal said. “We were surprised by the fact that we met more resistance than we expected.”
The group faced heavy fire, and a number of its members were killed. Faal fled to neighboring Senegal and turned himself in to the U.S. embassy.
Family members of Faal’s who attended the hearing declined to comment afterward. But Faal’s wife, Saibanou, said previously she was shocked by news of the coup attempt and her husband’s involvement.
She believes Faal acted because of a long-standing frustration with alleged human rights abuses in Gambia, from rigged elections to the jailing of political opponents and journalists.
Faal’s attorney said he hopes his client will be released on bail as he awaits his sentencing hearing.