U.S. law enforcement officials have put Drug Enforcement Administration Air Wing pilots on alert and planes on standby as they wait out the ongoing discussions between alleged Jamaican drug lord Christopher "Dudus" Coke and the U.S. government -- and wait to see whether Coke will be brought out of hiding in handcuffs or in a body bag.
US Marshals, DEA agents and federal prosecutors are working hand in hand with senior Jamaican military and police officials in an effort to effect a surrender and extradition of Coke, who is wanted on federal drug and firearms charges, to the United States.
At least 60 Jamaicans, including both civilians and security officers, have died since Jamaican authorities began moving in on Coke's barricaded West Kingston neighborhood in an attempt to capture him Monday. The U.S. has wanted to extradite Coke since 2009, but the Jamaican government had resisted until this month.
The violence shows no signs of abating and has spread to adjoining neighborhoods. The police and military effort to curb it now has by some estimates "thousands" of troops on the streets. Jamaican authorities allege that Coke brought in gunmen from other parts of Jamaica and other Caribbean islands to help prevent his capture.
The 2009 U.S. indictment of Coke charges that he shipped firearms back to Jamaica from the U.S. The island nation has one of the highest murder rates in the Western Hemisphere. Nearly 1700 people were slain in 2009, out of a population of about three million, and as 2010 approaches the halfway mark about 1300 have already been killed.
On Tuesday, U.S. authorities said they believed Coke had escaped through a ring of hundreds of cops and soldiers who had surrounded the West Kingston neighborhood of Tivoli Gardens. Jamaican and U.S. authorities report that Coke may have slipped through police lines and escaped into one of two adjoining areas, either Denham Town or Jones Town.
Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding had resisted U.S. efforts to extradite Coke, citing doubts about the use of wiretaps to gather evidence against Coke. Golding dropped his resistance to Coke's extradition during the week of May 10, 2010, under intense pressure from Jamaica's main political parties, the ruling Jamaica Labour Parties (JLP) and the opposition People's National Party, or PNP. On May 17th Golding announced that he would direct his Attorney General to sign an order that would allow Coke's arrest.
Following that announcement, the West Kingston communities allied to Coke began non-violent protests. But even then it was apparent to authorities that Coke's supporters were gearing up for an armed confrontation. They fortified their neighborhood with sandbags, threw up road blocks, installed improvised explosive devices and electrified fencing, all in an effort to block Coke's arrest.
Coke's forces are heavily armed with an arsenal that includes automatic rifles and hand grenades. Authorities are attempting to confirm reports that the drug gang also has rocket launchers.
According to the indictment issued in New York in 2009, Coke is alleged to head an international criminal posse known as "The Shower Posse" that operates in Jamaica and the United States. He has been charged by U.S. authorities with conspiracy to distribute marijuana and cocaine and conspiracy to traffic in firearms.
Coke is alleged to have sold crack cocaine and marijuana in the New York area since the 1990s and to equip his gang members with illegally procured weapons.
Coke, aka "Presi," "President," "Dudus," and "Shortman," according to the indictment, is alleged to have sold more than 1000 pounds of pot and at least five kilos of cocaine during the period of the indictment, 1994 through 2007.
Coke's posse allegedly operated out of the Tivoli Gardens neighborhood in West Kingston, which the indictment described as a garrison community, "a barricaded neighborhood guarded by a group of armed gunmen."
The indictment also alleged, however, that the Shower Posse had a presence in "other areas of Jamaica, and in other countries, including the United States." At Coke's direction, Shower Posse members allegedly sent firearms back to Jamaica, which has one of the highest murder rates in the Western Hemisphere.
Coke's "power and influence" the indictment charged, enabled him to protect his posse as it shipped dope to New York and weapons to Jamaica. Coke's alleged ties to Jamaica's prime minister and ruling party have been a major factor influencing the US inability to extradite him in the past.
Prime Minister Golding was criticized by the political opposition in March for allegedly hiring a lobbying firm in the U.S. to fight the extradition of Coke. Lobbying documents show that the Jamaican government did hire a firm to lobby the U.S. over the treaty dispute. Golding later admitted that he approved the hiring of the firm, but said the effort was on behalf of his political party and not the government.