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Alleged Jamaican drug lord arrives in United States to face charges

By the CNN Wire
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Alleged drug lord face charges
  • NEW: Christopher "Dudus" Coke will be arraigned Friday
  • Alleged drug kingpin arrived in the United States Thursday evening
  • "I love the people of Jamaica," he says
  • Coke waived right to a hearing in Jamaica

White Plains, New York (CNN) -- Alleged drug kingpin Christopher "Dudus" Coke was extradited Thursday from Jamaica to the United States, where he is to face drug and weapons charges.

His extradition occurred two days after he was taken into custody in Jamaica and several hours after he had waived his right to an extradition hearing in Jamaica. Coke arrived at about 7 p.m. at White Plains-Westchester County Airport outside New York City.

As a phalanx of armed Drug Enforcement Administration agents and U.S. marshals paraded him in front of about a dozen reporters to a silver SUV outside the terminal, Coke -- dressed in a blue open-necked shirt and black pants, his hands cuffed behind his back -- appeared subdued, a smirk on his face.

"I love the people of Jamaica," he said in response to a question from a Jamaican reporter.

A DEA agent said he was to be taken to New York City and arraigned Friday in federal court in Manhattan.

Prior to his departure from Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston, he said in a statement that he had made the decision to waive his right to an extradition hearing of his own free will, and did so "even though I am of the belief that my case would have been successfully argued in the courts of Jamaica."

According to a superseding indictment filed in Manhattan federal court, Coke has led a criminal organization known as the "Shower Posse" since the early 1990s, with members in the United States, Jamaica and other countries.

"At Coke's direction and under his protection, members of his criminal organization sold marijuana and crack cocaine in the New York area and elsewhere, and sent the narcotics proceeds back to Coke and his co-conspirators," the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York said in a statement.

"Coke and his co-conspirators also armed their organization with illegally trafficked firearms," the statement said.

Coke, 40, is charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and marijuana and conspiracy to illegally traffic in firearms. If convicted on the narcotics charge, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison and a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison, as well as a fine of up to $4 million.

He faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison on the firearms trafficking charge and a fine of up to $250,000.

Coke was arrested on Tuesday when Jamaican police recognized him at a checkpoint.

Last month's failed attempt to arrest Coke sparked four days of gunbattles between security forces and his supporters in Kingston that left 76 people dead.

Coke, who is also known as "President," "Shortman" and "General," said he was "deeply upset and saddened by the unnecessary loss of lives" and said the deaths "could have been avoided."

"Everyone, the whole country, has been adversely affected by the process that has surrounded my extradition and I hope that my action today will go some way towards healing all who have suffered and will be of benefit to the community of Tivoli Gardens," a neighborhood where violence erupted, he said.

He said his decision to face charges in the United States was made in "the best interest of my family, community of Western Kingston and in particular the people of Tivoli Gardens and above all Jamaica."

He was leaving his country with "a heavy heart" and is "fully confident that in due course I will be vindicated."

"Pray for me and God bless Jamaica," he said.

A Jamaican opposition member, Peter Phillips, noted that since Tuesday's arrest there had been little unrest in Coke strongholds -- the neighborhoods of West Kingston and Tivoli Gardens.

The member of parliament and former national security minister attributed the calm to the fact that the government had declared a state of emergency and troops were in the streets.

But the U.S. State Department issued a travel alert for U.S. citizens planning to visit Jamaica, updating one that had been issued June 15.

"U.S. citizens are urged to exercise heightened security awareness and maintain a low profile," it said.

Phillips called for the appointment of an investigative commission to probe whether the ruling Labor Party may have tried to "prevent and frustrate the extradition request."

Jamaicans deserve to "understand the activities that took place, and the apparent conduct of members of government on the political and the administrative side," Phillips said. "We need to know if there was an attempt to obstruct justice on behalf of the government."

Newspaper polls suggest most Jamaicans believe the government mishandled the extradition request, he said.

"There are still questions left to be answered," he said. "We need a commission to look at all dimensions of this."

Coke has maintained a heroic reputation in the Kingston slums, with some people comparing him to Robin Hood, Jesus and one-time Colombian kingpin Pablo Escobar.

His popularity stemmed from his community efforts, including handing out food, sending children to school and building medical centers. But drug enforcement officials say he deserves to be classified as one of the world's most dangerous drug lords.

CNN's Eliott C. McLaughlin, Elise Zeiger, Terry Frieden and Brooke Baldwin and Journalist Kirk Abrahams contributed to this story.