Papa Faal of Brooklyn Center is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. The 46-year-old is accused of secretly shipping guns from Minnesota to his native country of The Gambia in West Africa.
In a WCCO exclusive, his family says he was standing up for democracy, and should not be in custody.
His family says Papa was living the American dream. He has two master’s degrees, and he’s working on his PhD.
With a wife and 2-year-old daughter at home, he sacrificed everything to help people in his homeland, who he says are being oppressed by the government.
Sai Faal fought back tears as she talked about her husband.
“I’m praying for him every single day,” Sai said.
Papa is currently in federal custody, accused of taking part in a coup to overthrow the Gambian government.
“He doesn’t like oppression, that’s one of the reasons he joined the military,” Sai said.
Papa served in Afghanistan. His wife and his cousin, Sankung Jawara, both say he has always put others before himself.
“We just cannot sit and have other people fight our fight for us, so we feel it necessary that we have to do something,” Sankung said.
According to a criminal complaint, Papa’s plan was to restore democracy to The Gambia and improve the lives of its people.
Papa told investigators he legally purchased eight semi-automatic rifles and shipped them along with night-vision goggles, body armor and ammunition to the African nation.
The team of conspirators stormed the state house in Banjul on Dec. 30, 2014. Several of them were killed.
Papa got away, only to be arrested days later when he returned to the U.S.
The Gambia president showed off what was left behind by those who attempted to overthrow his regime.
Sankung hopes what is happening to his cousin will shed light on what is happening in the small African nation of 1.8 million people.
He says it’s not much different than the fight other countries have against an oppressive government.
“The American government is supporting the rebels in Syria because of the atrocities the Syrian government is doing to these people,” Sankung said. “They are helping out so they can actually take over their country and be independent. We don’t have that in The Gambia.”
Papa’s family says there is a petition circulating with more than 1,000 signatures, asking for his release so he can care for his family while his case goes through the courts.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder says conspiring to overthrow a foreign government is against the law, and he vows to hold those responsible accountable.