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The fugitive whose supporters have reduced the Jamaican capital to a war zone used improvised bombs, closed-circuit TV and cross-dressing mercenaries to defend his stronghold, police said yesterday. As the manhunt for Christopher “Dudus” Coke entered its third week, police said that Mr Coke, wanted in the United States as the alleged head of the Shower Posse drug gang, monitored the entrances to his bastion at Tivoli Gardens in Kingston with a network of CCTV cameras before slipping away shortly after the army stormed the area.
Soldiers searching the slum that is pockmarked with bullets found a warren of tunnels and sewers leading all the way to Kingston harbour thus providing a possible escape route from the country — although the chief of Jamaican police insisted their “best intelligence” indicated that Mr Coke remained on the island.
The violence has claimed 73 lives so far, but police say that some of the casualties were not what they seemed.
“There were two women among the civilians killed. The rest are all males and some were dressed like females at the time they were killed,” Owen Ellington, the police commissioner, told reporters.
Mr Coke, 42, Jamaica’s most powerful “don”, remained in hiding yesterday while talks were said to be continuing between his lawyers and US officials over terms for a possible surrender.
Police believe that he left Tivoli Gardens as early as 4pm local time last Monday — hours after hundreds of soldiers stormed his barricaded redoubt to arrest him for extradition to the United States.
“We will catch him, we will execute that warrant, and he will face justice,” said Mr Ellington.
The reputed crime boss is believed to have shaved his head and beard to change his appearance.
A former senior police officer urged the security forces to search the homes of politicians and other high-profile people for the fugitive — despite a botched army raid on a home in the high-class neighbourhood of Kirkland Heights in the early hours of Thursday that killed the brother of a former government minister.
Reneto Adamas, the retired senior police superintendent, told a meeting of the Rotary Club on Thursday: “[He may be hiding] at the house of the politicians, the house of certain people in society and there is a particular house that I have great respect for that I will not mention, but a word to the wise is sufficient.”
Police said that after the Government’s decision on May 17 to extradite Mr Coke, he paid to import up to 400 gunmen from outside Tivoli Gardens to defend the area barricaded by his supporters. It was reported that the hired gunmen received up to J$100,000 (£780) a day. According to The Gleaner newspaper, police believe that defences were masterminded by an explosives expert formerly of the Jamaican security services.
Photographs made public by the authorities showed improvised bombs similar to those seen in Afghanistan, with explosives packed next to scrap metal and cooking gas canisters, wired to be detonated by remote control from homes or rooftops.
Police recovered caches of petrol bombs after it was reported that hundreds of gallons of fuel were purchased to bolster the defences.
With snipers defending the barricades, it took soldiers almost 12 hours to break into Tivoli Gardens.
“It took our troops three hours to get from Beckford Street to the MPM [Metropolitan Parks and Markets] building. This is a mere 200 metres, a three-minute walk for the average Jamaican,” said Major Ricardo Blackwood, an army spokesman.
“This speaks to the kind of armed resistance that was faced. The gunfire was consistent and sustained and it was evident that the gunmen used the vantage of high-rise buildings to fire on the security forces; these high-rise buildings were also used as sniper positions.”
When troops seized Mr Coke’s headquarters at Tivoli Gardens they discovered a CCTV system that enabled him to monitor all the entrances. They also found large amounts of local and foreign currency and copies of the extradition documents filed by the US Government, which Mr Coke appeared to have obtained illicitly.
Searches have recovered 28 firearms, including 14 rifles, and almost 9,000 rounds of ammunition, as well as nine grenades, dynamite and eight bulletproof vests.
Police continued to hunt for arms, however, saying that many weapons were concealed in black plastic bags in heaps of rubbish and manholes.
About 980 people were rounded up for questioning, including 67 youths and four women. Many were being held in the National Arena. Police said that at least 400 men were from outside the Tivoli Gardens area. Most have since been released.
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