An apparent attempted coup by a group of Gambian soldiers while Yahya Jammeh, the country's longstanding president, was abroad in Chad, has been foiled, military and diplomatic sources have said.

The AFP news agency, quoting military sources, on Tuesday said three coup plotters, including the alleged ringleader, had been killed in the capital Banjul.

A Gambian diplomat said the presidential palace in the heart of the small city on the Gambia river was attacked at about 03:00 GMT by armed men including members of the presidential guard.

"They wanted to overthrow the regime," a military source said. The government denied reports of an attempted coup.

"Police and the army are now entirely in control of the situation," a military officer told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The pre-dawn assault triggered panic in the tropical city, while national radio went off air for several hours and state television was suspended.

Jammeh told Chadian officials he was returning home, a senior Chadian official told the Reuters news agency.

 

"He is going back home," said the official, who declined to be named.

Jammeh took power at the age of 29 following a coup in 1994.

Former vice president of the country, Bakary Darbo, told Al Jazeera it was too early to say for sure if it had been a coup attempt.

"I hold on to the view that there have been two incidents of gunfire, whether it amounts to a coup we will have to see," he said.

"[President] Jammeh wields considerable powers, many of it unconstitutionally. There are supposed to be checks and balances, but in reality all of these have been encroached upon.

"Gambia now is very much a one-man dictatorship."

Gambia is a tiny former British colony surrounded by Senegal on both its northern and southern borders.

Human rights activists say Jammeh's government is repressive and has targeted political dissidents, journalists, and gays and lesbians.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies