Latin America & Caribbean

Jamaican 'drug lord' Christopher 'Dudus' Coke arrested

Jamaican police say they have arrested suspected drug lord Christopher "Dudus" Coke on the outskirts of Kingston.

He was detained at a roadblock on Tuesday accompanied by Rev Al Miller, a preacher who said Mr Coke was going to the US embassy to hand himself in.

The government wants to extradite him to face US drug and gun trafficking charges. His case has shed light on the links between politicians and gangs.

Attempts to capture him in May led to clashes in which scores of people died.

The 41-year-old is accused of being the leader of the notorious Shower Posse, which US authorities say operates an international drug and gun smuggling network. It has also been blamed for numerous murders.

Mr Coke faces life in prison if convicted on charges filed against him in New York.

He insists he is a legitimate businessman and enjoys the support of many impoverished Kingston residents who see him as a benefactor.

'Secure facility'

Following his arrest at 1600 (2100 GMT) on Tuesday, Mr Coke was taken to a nearby police station, where crowds quickly gathered as news spread. A military helicopter was later used to move him to an undisclosed location.

Jamaican Police Commissioner Owen Ellington said in a statement that Mr Coke had been arrested by policemen "acting on intelligence" at a vehicle checkpoint along the Mandela Highway.

"Coke is being held now in a secure facility, and the security forces are taking every step possible to ensure his safety and well-being while he is in our custody," he added, declining to give his exact location.

"The legal proceedings will commence immediately, once we are able to settle on the issue of legal representation and reach an agreement with the director of public prosecutions on where the hearings will be held, a court date will be set, and we anticipate that we can achieve that within 48 hours."

Mr Ellington said he was uncertain whether Mr Coke would be charged in Jamaica in connection with the deaths of two policemen and a soldier last month.

The commissioner said the security threat level for the police had been raised to the level that it was during last month's clashes in the capital, and that they had been alerted to the possibility of attacks.

"I would like to appeal to the families, friends and sympathisers of Christopher Coke to remain calm and to allow the law to take its course," he added.

"We would also like to reassure the country that we will continue our efforts to defeat organised crime and to restore law and order in this country while, at the same time, turning around the crime and security situation."

Mr Ellington added that police wanted to question Rev Miller, who was allowed to leave the police checkpoint after Mr Coke was arrested.

Rev Miller, who reportedly facilitated the surrender of Mr Coke's brother Leighton earlier this month, said Mr Coke had been on his way to the US embassy to hand himself in because he did not trust the police not to harm him.

"He also wanted to waive his right to an extradition hearing so that he could go to the US for a trial," he told reporters.

Mr Ellington said that he had spoken with his senior officers and "asked each individually if they were party to any discussion or agreement for the bypassing of the legal processes for Coke to be turned over to US Marshals".

"Each officer responded in the negative. I would like to have Mr Miller in so we can have discussions with him and we would advise him to have his attorney accompany him," he added.

Image caption Armed Jamaican police tried to seize Mr Coke in May

The pursuit of Mr Coke has shed light on the links between politicians and gang leaders in Jamaica.

Prime Minister Bruce Golding is said to have relied on Mr Coke to turn out the vote at election time in the Tivoli Gardens district he represents in parliament, and which the Shower Posse controls.

When Mr Coke was first indicted in the US last August, Mr Golding initially fought the extradition, arguing that it was based on flawed evidence.

But after months of delays and amid growing local and international criticism, he agreed to extradite Mr Coke and signed an arrest warrant in May.

However, gunmen loyal to him in Tivoli Gardens barricaded the streets there and mounted attacks against the police.

A state of emergency was declared and more than 70 people were killed in four days of gun battles, during which Mr Coke was able to escape. The security forces have since been accused of using excessive force.

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