Gambia's iron-fisted ruler Yahya Jammeh returned home overnight after a failed coup launched while he was outside the country, a military source said Wednesday, as fears mounted of possible reprisals by his regime.
A group of heavily armed men led by an army deserter attacked the presidential palace in the capital Banjul before dawn on Tuesday, but were repelled by Jammeh's forces.
Forces loyal to Jammeh, who has ruled the small west African country for 20 years, killed three suspects including the alleged ringleader identified as Lamin Sanneh, according to a military officer.
Jammeh, who had been on a private visit to Dubai since the weekend, went directly to the presidential palace where he was shown the damage caused by Tuesday's attack and bodies of the slain assailants, the source told AFP from Bissau.
The 49-year-old strongman made no public comments but his demeanour was stern and some men "appeared to be nervous", the source said. "People were told to be vigilant."
The source said there were fears that Jammeh, who himself seized power in a coup in 1994, may launch a purge.
The coup bid "has exposed some flaws in the military system even though the attackers were repelled. Some officers are certain to be singled out."
Jammeh claims to have foiled a succession of coup plots and has come under fire for serious human rights abuses, including repression of the media and the disappearance of rivals.
A Dakar-based researcher, Gilles Yabi, warned of a "major risk of repression extending beyond the military figures involved in the coup attempt".
"There are fears the regime could take advantage of the situation by blaming people who had nothing to do with it".
Jammeh, a former head of military police, has ruled the largely rural nation of some 1.8 million people since 1994, when he came to power in a coup that toppled founding leader Sir Dawda Jawara.
The United States and Britain voiced concern about the coup attempt in The Gambia, which left the Commonwealth group of nations in 2013 accusing London and Washington of lying about its human rights situation.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon called for a probe of the failed coup as the Security Council met to discuss the turmoil. Ban also urged the government, security and defence forces in Banjul to "act in full respect of human rights."
Banjul, a small tropical city which lies on an island in a river leading to the Atlantic Ocean, was tense but calm on Wednesday, but there were many soldiers and police on the streets.
"Soldiers armed to teeth are still patrolling the streets of Banjul. Some are on foot and some are on board vehicles," resident Fatu Sall said.
Public offices, banks and shops were open for business after closing on Tuesday while public television and radio, which went off air briefly after the coup bid, were operating again.
"Contrary to rumours, there is peace and calm in the country and people are advised to go about their normal businesses. We are praying for peace and tranquility to continue," state radio said late Tuesday, quoting a government statement.
Ordinary people were reluctant to speak out about the situation for fear of reprisals by the formidable National Intelligence Agency.
But on social media, people were more open.
"#Gambia if you stage a coup, make sure it is successful. Failure is unforgivable. Jammeh will have your kidneys for dinner! #Gambiacoup", posted Twitter user @FrMkaranja.