A former Texas housing official has been charged in federal court with financing a coup in his native Gambia.
Cherno Njie of Austin, who has also developed several senior living centers in Houston, was to become the west African nation's interim president following the overthrow of President Yahyeh Jammeh, according to federal charges filed in Minnesota, where Njie's co-defendant lives.
The men are charged with violating the Neutrality Act "by conspiring to make an expedition against a friendly nation from the United States," as well as possession of firearms "in furtherance of a crime of violence." (We'd just like to note that this "friendly nation" is ruled by a leader who has vowed to behead all gay people in his country, and who has beaten and imprisoned villagers he suspected of being witches.)
Njie and Faal met in Gambia before the coup, the affidavit states. Faal accepted an invitation to join the rebels in August 2014, because "he had become disenchanted by the way 'the president was rigging elections' and because of his concerns for the 'plight of the Gambian people.'"
After the initial meeting, Faal and Njie spoke primarily over the phone, using code names. Faal got the cool one -- "Fox" -- while the man who would ostensibly become the nation's next president was saddled with "Dave."
"The group's plan for the coup was purportedly to restore democracy to The Gambia and to improve the lives of its people," according to the affidavit.
Unfortunately, due in part to last-minute changes, the December 30 coup attempt was a failure.
"The group initially planned to ambush the President of the Gambia during his overland travels around Christmas and New Year's," the affidavit states. "The group hopes to be in control of the country by New Year's Day. Their plan entailed blocking the President's convoy and ambushing his vehicle. They planned to fire shots into the air to cause his bodyguards to flee. They hoped the President would surrender, but were willing to shoot him if he fired at them."
Here's the kicker: "The group's plans changed when they found out President Jammeh was going to leave the country on December 26."
So the conspirators decided instead to take over Jammeh's heavily fortified office -- in what's called the State House -- but only 10-12 rebels turned up, mostly expatriates living in the U.S. and Germany. The less-than-elite crew split into Alpha and Bravo teams and went about their less-than-elite plan. According to the affidavit, Alpha Team fired "a shot into the air, hoping the soldiers would give up."
Unfortunately, the Alpha Team drew "heavy fire" from the State House guards and are believed to have been killed. At least one member of Bravo Team was also killed.
Faal and others purchased weapons, ammunition, and body armor at stores around the country, stuffed the equipment into 50-gallon drums, and sent the materiel to Gambia via cargo ship.
Federal agents searched Njie's properties in Austin and Lakeway January 3 and seized "a handwritten document that appears to describe the author's vision for The Gambia following a transition in political power," according to the affidavit. Agents also found a spreadsheet "appearing to depict the prices of various weapons and other items of logistical support." (An image of the spreadsheet contained in the affidavit notes that two .50-caliber sniper rifles were "NOT really necessary but could be very useful.")
No information regarding Njie's attorney was available. Faal is represented by a federal public defender. (A woman who answered the phone at a number listed for Njie said no one was home and hung up).
Njie's LinkedIn profile lists him as the president of Songhai Development Company and CMB Construction. Projects included Houston's Chelsea Senior Community, Langwick Senior Residences, Little York Villas, and Lansbourough Apartments. He also funded the Ida Gaye Gardens public park, according to the profile.
A graduate of UT-Austin, Njie worked in the housing tax credit division of the Texas Department of Housing And Community Affairs from 1992-2001, according to the profile.
We'd just like to add that, while it's all well and good the U.S. is keeping tabs on Texans who try to overthrow a murderous lunatic in Gambia, we'd be happy if they kept an eye on Texans who visit Gambia and suddenly vanish.
That's what happened to Houstonian Alhagie Mamut Ceesay, according to his family.
Ceesay's sister Juka told the Press in November that someone may have implicated her brother and his business partner, Ebou Jobe, in the coup, despite there being no evidence they went to Gambia to help overthrow the government.
A U.S. State Department official told us in November that "Gambian authorities" take the lead on missing persons cases.
If that's the case, we certainly hope those authorities are actively looking for Ceesay and Jobe, and doing everything possible to make sure they're safe -- you know, seeing how they're such a "friendly" nation and all.
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