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.