– 151 were murdered by bandits
– 239 killed during confrontations with police and in unexplained circumstances
– 30 security officers lost their lives
For more than 15 years, the number of persons who died in the violence that followed the February 23rd, 2002 Camp Street jailbreak and the circumstances of their deaths have been the sources of heated disputation. As part of a public service journalism project to shed more light on that period, Stabroek News has compiled from its archives a list of persons killed between February 23, 2002, and September 2006 along with basic facts surrounding their cases. More details on each case will be carried online at www.stabroeknews.com. While there will likely be some deaths that may not have been recorded by the newspaper these would only be a small number.
Given the amount of work entailed, the project will continue at a later date up to the point of the death of Rondell `Fineman’ Rawlins on August 28, 2008. It is hoped that this record will aid in the fact-based discussion of that period.
The daring escape of five prisoners from the Camp Street Prison on February 23rd 2002 was the catalyst for one of the bloodiest periods in the country’s history resulting in hundreds of lives being lost in robberies, police officers being slaughtered and a parallel security arm springing up leading to many men being killed execution-style and with the drug trade playing a major role in key events of that period.
It was during this period that Guyanese first came to learn of drug lord Roger Khan and the role he played in mobilizing fighters against the escapees in a bid to protect his narcotics turf and that of other businessmen. Khan would later be apprehended in Suriname and seized by the US authorities in Trinidad before being flown to the US where he completed a 10-year drug sentence and was deported to Guyana on September 20 this year. He was taken into police custody after being processed as a deportee and was questioned about the murders of boxing coach Donald Allison and journalist Ronald Waddell before being released several days later on station bail. There has been no further word from law enforcement authorities on whether he is the subject of ongoing investigations.
While murders and gang killings had been recurrent problems prior to the jail-break, the scale of the brazen attacks on citizens and police officers and the brutal killings with hints of torture had not been seen prior to the February 2002 to September 2006 period when the last prison escapee was shot dead.
It was a period that also saw Government Minister, Satyadeow Sawh being gunned down as he lay in his hammock, a US diplomat being kidnapped and later freed after a ransom was paid and Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj being forced to demit office after claims that he sanctioned the government aligned-parallel security arm referred to as the ‘death squad’ or ‘phantom squad’. That period also saw parts of Buxton being taken over by prison escapees which saw some villagers being chased out following brutal attacks as they objected to the occupation of the village’s backdam and that of neighbouring communities by criminals.
According to Stabroek News’ record some 420 persons were killed between February 2002 and September 2006 -30 security officers, 151 persons murdered by bandits and another 239 persons killed during confrontations with members of the joint services, or unexplained circumstances or in other incidents where it was later revealed that drugs were involved. The period saw the youngest robbery victim being a 9-year-old girl while the youngest murder victim was a 12-year-old who was killed when gunmen barged into his parents’ home reportedly in search of his father.
When Dale Moore, Troy Dick, Andrew Douglas, Mark Fraser and Shawn Brown shot their way out of the Camp Street prison on Guyana’s Republic Day observance in 2002, they left a bloody trail as they killed young prison officer Troy Williams and gravely injured his colleague Roxanne Winfield who while alive today continues to suffer as a direct result of the injuries sustained.
As soon as the bandits escaped from Camp Street, an upsurge of robberies and killings commenced coupled with sustained attacks on police officers which began with the slaying on April 2, 2002 of the then feared Superintendent Leon Fraser who was the head of the infamous ‘black clothes’ police squad. He had been accused of extrajudicial killings and other excesses and was thought to be a prime target of the escapees. Policemen were slain on their way to work and in other circumstances.
With evidence that the criminals were embedded in Buxton, the police attempted to establish a presence in the village. During one of these operations on April 6th, 2002, the police killed Shaka Blair reportedly as he lay in his bed in his Buxton home. That killing led to questions about the police force’s conduct and intensified the targeting of policemen even as robberies and murders escalated.
There were repeated armed skirmishes between the police and persons in the backlands of the village and eventually the army was called in and its members set up camp in the village to give support to the police. This did not result in an abatement of the violence and signalled the start of a period where criminologists say that both the police and army were compromised and information was readily passed on to the criminals about when raids would be conducted among other things.
Citizens from villages bordering Buxton were kidnapped and ransom calls made and while a number were released, others were found dead and some remain missing up to today.
Andrew Douglas, the escapee who made a video dressed in military fatigues and armed with a high-powered gun while referring to himself and the others as ‘freedom fighters’ was the first to be killed. His bullet-riddled body was discovered in the back seat of a car in August 2002, the first major sign that there was a group of gunmen working outside of law enforcement targeting criminals and equipped with intelligence information, sophisticated weaponry and transport.
Bodies of persons, some with criminal pasts, began to turn up in various parts of the city and the East Coast but it was after the notorious Brahmanand Nandalall, also known as ‘Bramma’, was kidnapped that what was later known as a the ‘phantom squad’ and ‘death squad’ commenced operations on a large scale .
Nandalall, who had been linked to the drug trade and had various businesses, was snatched on October 24th, 2002 following a running gunfight in Central Georgetown during which a female passerby was injured. His kidnappers were a group of heavily armed men in bulletproof vests.
Four days later, on October 28th 2002, reportedly without police intervention, Nandalall freed himself. This escape triggered a bloodbath that saw six men killed in various parts of the city. Included in the dead were two of the prison escapees Dale Moore and Mark Fraser and while some of the bodies were discovered in Lamaha Gardens, a few doors away from the home of the then Home Affairs Minister Gajraj, others were found in a car on the East Coast, a house in Campbellville and in Le Repentir Cemetery.
Though the police force said two of the men were killed during a confrontation with its members it could not account for how the four others died and while an investigation was reportedly launched it was never revealed how the men met their deaths.
Shortly after this, another five men were killed execution-style as the taxis they travelled in were waylaid and gunmen opened fire on them cutting down some as they attempted to escape on Robb Street.
All the while, bandits continued to rob and kill citizens and police officers and this included two officers being killed in 2002 when gunmen went on a murderous rampage in Rose Hall, sawing their way into homes and robbing occupants. They also killed a 17-year-old boy who was a candidate at the PPP’s just concluded congress.
In early 2003 the criminals kidnapped US diplomat Stephen Lesniak-who was the then Regional Security Officer as he played at the Lusignan Golf Course. He was released several hours later. It was believed that a ransom was paid and shortly after the kidnapping Lesniak and the woman who paid the ransom were spirited out of the country. While officials from the United States Federal Bureau of Investi-gation visited Guyana no official findings of the investigation were revealed.
While there was talk about the parallel security arm being in operation as the police on many occasions were unable to provide an explanation for the many bodies that were turning up, it was on June 5th 2003 that this newspaper saw evidence of the private force. During an explosive two-hour standoff at a Prashad Nagar home between police and gunmen, this newspaper witnessed armed men with their faces covered with ski masks taking part in the operation and being allowed beyond the police barricade. Following this exercise, escapee Shawn Brown and two others were killed.
It was after cattle farmer Shafeek Bacchus was gunned down in front of his home in January 2004 that his brother, George Bacchus, rose to the forefront and claimed that he had been the real target of the gunmen. He then made the explosive claim that he had been part of the ‘death squad’ that was executing persons and that he had wanted to exit the squad hence the attempt on his life which saw his brother Shafeek being killed instead.
He made several claims, including that there was a torture chamber and that the squad had the sanction of then Home Affairs Minister Gajraj. The late former Minister had steadfastly denied this.
Bacchus named ex-policeman Axel Williams, himself killed execution-style in December 2003 reportedly by his colleagues in the squad. Telephone records had shown that Gajraj was in constant contact with Williams. He had also sanctioned a gun licence for Williams, who had once killed a food vendor over $20 and who escaped being charged after a recommendation for a murder charge was modified to the holding of an inquest into the death of the food vendor.
Amid ongoing fears that he would still be targeted, George Bacchus himself was gunned down in his bed in his Princes Street home on June 24, 2004. Gajraj, who by this time was being repeatedly accused of sanctioning the killer squad stepped down and called for President Bharrat Jagdeo to conduct a full inquiry.
An inquiry was then set up, chaired by then acting Chief Justice Ian Chang with members Norman McLean and Keith Massiah. At the end of the inquiry, during which the commissioners were forced to subpoena witnesses, it was found that there was no credible evidence that Gajraj was involved in extrajudicial killings.
Soon after the findings, the PPP/C government approved the Minister’s return to his office but with the Government under pressure internationally and from the US and other countries he resigned days later and was shortly after appointed as High Commissioner to India where he remained until the Government changed in 2015.
In 2006 Roger Khan was formally brought into the spotlight when he was named in a US State Department report as a drug lord. His connections to the drug trade were an open secret and he had also been linked to the private gang warfare. On December 4th 2002, Khan and some of his cohorts were intercepted by a GDF intelligence unit. They were found with weapons and a laptop device which reportedly could have traced phone calls among other things. Charges were only laid days after and then eventually dismissed at the magistrate’s court. Khan was thereafter free to continue his business and it was evident that his connections with the PPP/C government enabled this.
As the police and army closed in on him in 2006 after it was evident that the US was seeking his extradition, a cornered Khan went into hiding but through his lawyers he made statements in which allegations were made that he had assisted both the army and police in fighting crime with the support of the PPP/C Government.
Khan was captured in Suriname on the 15th June 2006 and later taken to the US where he was charged. He later pleaded guilty and was sentenced for drug trafficking. Prior to pleading guilty, several revelations were made which shed light on how some of the persons were killed during the bloody years. Also revealed was that the drug trade played a major part in many of the killings. Then Health Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy was also named as the point person in the Government with whom Khan liaised. Ramsammy has repeatedly denied this.
In the period leading up to Khan’s arrest, journalist and government critic Ronald Waddell was gunned down outside his Subryanville home on the 30th of January 2006. On April 22, 2006, Minister of Agriculture Sawh was murdered at his LBI home by gunmen who also killed his brother, his sister and a security guard. Sawh was in his hammock at the time and as he attempted to escape into his home he was cut down with the gunmen entering the home and killing his siblings.
Waddell’s and Sawh’s murders more than 13 years ago are among the dozens from that period that remain unsolved.