May 25, 2010 -- As official reports surface of accused drug lord Christopher Coke's escape from his barricaded Kingston, Jamaica neighborhood, where Jamaican authorities have been attempting to arrest him for extradition to the U.S., ABC News has learned that a U.S. government report refers to Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding as a "criminal affiliate" of Coke.
Golding, who led resistance to Coke's extradition before public opinion forced him to reverse himself, is described in a document read to ABC News as a "known criminal affiliate" of Christopher "Dudus" Coke. According to official U.S. accounts , Golding's Jamaican Labour Party (JLP) was voted into power through "Coke's murderous and strong-arm tactics."
Recently, Golding and other senior Jamaican officials have been electronically intercepted talking to Coke inside his fortified redoubt, US authorities say.
The major police action to capture Coke began Monday morning. 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 US authorities report that Coke may have slipped through police lines and escaped into one of two adjoining areas, either Denham Town or Jones Town.
By Monday night, Coke's gun-toting supporters had taken control of the Kingston Public Hospital, and the hospital's one surgeon has been treating at least 14 Coke loyalists.
Jamaican police are reporting that 30 people -- 26 civilians and four members of security forces -- have died during firefights in West Kingston as authorities attempt to capture Coke.
ABC News has learned that authorities believe at least 15 alleged gangsters have been slain. Police and soldiers have been doing battle with the alleged drug lord's heavily armed supporters and outside mercenaries that Jamaican authorities say Coke has hired. U.S. authorities say some of the mercenaries are believed to be Haitian.
In addition to the Kingston Hospital gunshot victims, the University of the West Indies (UWI) Hospital has treated 21 gunshot victims. Six of those – five civilians and one soldier – have died.
The island's Minister of National Security Dwight Nelson has alerted a third hospital, Andrews Hospital, to expect wounded and the National Blood Transfusion Service has issued an appeal to the public to donate blood. An emergency operations center has been activated to coordinate health sector responses as well as hospital security.
As the so far unsuccessful attempt to collar Coke continues, an American Airlines flight into Kingston was cancelled Tuesday and a British Airways flight Monday night was diverted to relatively peaceful Montego Bay. Air Jamaica has also cancelled flights on and off the island.
Reports of gunfire throughout Kingston continue with heavy fighting ongoing in West Kingston. Two local schools that serve American Embassy personnel were closed Tuesday and all non-essential personnel at the U.S. Embassy have been told to stay home.
During a previous attempt to capture Coke 27 were killed and a JDF helicopter was shot down. The current effort began in August 2009, when U.S. authorities forwarded a Provisional Arrest Warrant and Extradition Request to the Jamaican government.
Prime Minister 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 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.
Explosions and steady gunfire have been heard throughout Coke's West Kingston neighborhood starting at about noon Monday. On Monday, he told the Jamaican police who are trying to capture him so he can be extradited to the U.S., "I will not surrender," according to U.S. authorities.
Eight police officers were shot, two fatally, during a confrontation near the international airport Sunday night. Four police stations were attacked Sunday, and one was burned to the ground. Jamaica's police commissioner has claimed that gunmen from other Caribbean islands have come to Kingston to aid Coke.
According to a federal 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 hd 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.
Additional reporting by Fitzroy Prendergast