Leading loyalist Andre Shoukri had to be re-released from prison after a threat that his arrest could end hopes of a start to the UDA’s decommissioning of its weapons in north Belfast.
Shoukri, one of the North’s most notorious unionist paramilitaries, was arrested at the weekend for breaching home-leave conditions.
On Friday Shoukri, who is serving a nine-year sentence for extortion and blackmail, was granted 72 hours’ leave from Maghaberry Prison. He had reportedly been granted temporary release to mark the first anniversary of the death of his brother Ihab, who died of a suspected drug overdose last November.
As part of his home-leave conditions Shoukri had been ordered not to associate with known loyalists.
However, he was arrested in Newtownabbey and returned to prison on Sunday after he was found in a car with former South East Antrim UDA ‘brigadier’ Gary Fisher.
A UDA group in Belfast, outraged by Shoukri’s arrest, said that it had informed the British government’s Northern Ireland Office that it had cancelled a planned meeting with General de Chastelain, who oversees the decommissioning process.
Following huried discussions between civil servants, the PSNI and the prison service, it was decided to yield the UDA demand and re-release Shoukri.
In a statement, the prison service said Shoukri’s “position has been reviewed” following further consultation with the PSNI “and a decision was made to allow Mr Shoukri to complete the period of home leave”.