A giant billboard of Gambia President Yahya Jammeh sits on an empty street in Banjul Gambia, Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2014.
Heavy gunfire rang out Tuesday
near the presidential palace in the tiny West African nation of Gambia
, residents said, raising the specter of a coup attempt while the longtime ruler is out of the country.
, who came to power in a 1994 coup when he
was 29 years old, left the capital of Banjul for France on Saturday, state media reported.
, soldiers linked to his
presidential guard were believed to be involved in the fighting, according to witnesses who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. (AP Photo)
DAKAR, Senegal (AP) - Soldiers loyal to Gambian President Yahya Jammeh went house-to-house in search of opponents Thursday after the longtime leader blamed "terrorist groups" for staging a coup attempt earlier this week.
, who was out of the country at the time of Tuesday's attack but has since returned to Banjul, the capital, alleged that the coup plotters had received backing from some foreign countries.
"I live for the Gambia and I will die fighting for the truth.
No human being can do anything to me, my government or the Gambia," Jammeh
is a small sliver of a country surrounded by Senegal where human rights activists say Jammeh
has long targeted political opponents, journalists, and gays and lesbians.
is one of Africa's most vocal anti-gay leaders and has previously threatened to behead sexual minorities found in his
The U.S. government recently removed Gambia
from a trade agreement in response to human rights abuses, including a law signed in October that imposes life imprisonment for some homosexual acts.
also drew swift condemnation from activists in 2007 after he
insisted that HIV-positive patients stop taking their antiretroviral medications, claiming he
could cure them with an herbal body rub and bananas.