(Reuters) – A Gambian civil society leader based in the United States said on Wednesday he had been questioned by the Federal Bureau of Investigation over a failed coup plot allegedly planned on U.S. soil.
Federal prosecutors have already charged a Texas businessman and a former U.S. Army sergeant over the failed Dec. 30 plot to oust President Yahya Jammeh while he was away from the tiny West African nation.
Banka Manneh, a U.S. resident who is chairman of the Civil Society Associations Gambia, told Reuters he had been questioned in Atlanta on Tuesday about any involvement in the coup but had not been arrested.
U.S. officials did not comment specifically about Manneh, whose organization has called for Jammeh to be removed.
Two U.S. officials who declined to be identified told Reuters U.S. authorities were continuing to investigate.
One said spy and law enforcement agencies as well as the White House and State Department were involved.
The federal complaint alleges plotters led and funded by housing developer Cherno Njie attacked the presidential palace, expecting guards to flee.
The plan collapsed when guards fired back and a Gambian battalion failed to join the attack as expected, it says.
Gambian authorities have not commented on the U.S. arrests and insist the attack was carried out by foreign-backed dissidents based in the United States, Britain and Germany.
In a number of rallies, Jammeh has warned of a crackdown.
“I am going to get rid of these elements one by one until the last person,” he said on Monday. “Apart from the decision from the Almighty Allah, no human soul, animal, fish or insect, black or white, can remove me from power.”
Rights groups and diplomats say dozens of people suspected of having links to the plotters have been arrested.
In the weeks before the coup bid, ties between Gambia and Washington were increasingly strained.
The U.S. National Security Council flagged concerns about reports of forced disappearances and arbitrary arrests.
Gambia was dropped from AGOA, a U.S. program giving African countries duty-free access to U.S. markets. Two U.S. citizens have been missing in Gambia since June 2013.
Manneh said the U.S. arrests gave the impression Washington and Banjul were “collaborating” to shut down dissent, even in the diaspora.
“(Jammeh) will now be emboldened to commit more crimes,” he said. “This man has shut down all peaceful means for change. Gambians don’t have any other options.”
(Writing by David Lewis; editing by Andrew Roche)