KINGSTON, JAMAICA — Security forces went door-to-door through a bullet-pocked Jamaican slum on Thursday and said at least 74 people were killed in four days of gunbattles as they searched for a reputed drug lord.
The target of the manhunt, Christopher “Dudus” Coke, was nowhere to be found.
“We are still searching for Mr. Coke,” said Deputy Police Chief Glenmore Hinds. “Certainly we can’t disclose where we are looking.’’
Hinds said police and soldiers have found 73 bodies, three of which were killed in incidents not related to the raid.
“The 73 bodies we’re speaking about are all civilians,” Hinds said. “But civilians are sometimes gunmen and gunwomen.’’
He confirmed three police officers were killed in the fighting, and the army earlier said a soldier was killed as well. Twenty-eight security forces were injured. Hinds denied claims by residents that police were burning some bodies.
Security forces were in control in Tivoli Gardens, the slum where Coke enjoys widespread support and is referred to as “president.” They let residents move about freely beginning Thursday afternoon.
Sporadic gunfire could still be heard in the neighboring slum of Denham Town, where some streets remained barricaded by local gang members.
A crowd of some 100 people in Denham Town pointed at May Pen cemetery, shouting to reporters: “There are a lot of bodies over there.” Soldiers patrolled the cemetery and barred anyone from entering.
The director of Jamaica’s Red Cross said he was trying to get access to the neighborhood.
“We know there are people with urgent needs there,” Jaslin Salmon said. “We’ve also been told there are bodies in there.’’
More than 500 people have been arrested in connection with the four days of fighting, most of them in Tivoli Gardens. Police were searching for weapons, but so far have found only six weapons and 7,000 rounds of ammunition, Hinds said.
Community groups said police should have expected the violent reaction to the raid, especially since Coke supporters had been hoarding weapons since the U.S. demanded his extradition last August. Prime Minister Bruce Golding, whom Coke helped get elected, had wavered nine months before agreeing to extradite him.
Information Minister Daryl Vaz said officials are trying to identify the bodies and that the government will launch an independent investigation into police actions in the raid.
The four-day gunbattle occurred around the capital on Jamaica’s south coast, far from the tourist resorts on the north shore of the Caribbean island.