Irish Republican News · November 14, 2003
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Shock for nationalists as guilty verdict overturned

A top loyalist paramilitary, caught with a gun and ammunition in hostile territory at the height of the UDA feud, has had his six-year jail term quashed.

The court accepted a claim that he the weapon for his own defence -- setting a dangerous precedent in the eyes of nationalists. Armed loyalists can now roam freely throughout the North, it is feared.

UDA `brigadier' Andre Shoukri was yesterday cleared of possession of a Walther pistol and 30 rounds of ammunition in suspicious circumstances'' -- a crime which carries a maximum penalty of up to ten years.

The gun and bullets were discovered hidden inside Shoukri's sock. Forensic tests later revealed the weapon had been used in three previous UDA attacks.

Shoukri initially denied possessing the gun, but later changed his statement, claiming that he had obtained the weapon after being warned that loyalist rival Johnny Adair was going to target him.

Lawyers have expressed disbelief that Shoukri, who has previous convictions, won his appeal. Nationalists fear the case is another example of leniency by the overwhelmingly unionist judiciary to unionjist paramilitaries.

Jason O'Halloran who survived a murder bid in north Belfast at the hands of UDA gunmen in July last year, just hours before Catholic teenager Gerard Lawlor was killed, branded the decision a ``disgrace''.

``These people seem to be above the law,'' he said. ``They get caught red-handed with a gun and still get off with it.''

At Shoukri's original trial the court heard that police saw the loyalist ``fumbling'' in the waistband of his track suit after being stopped in a car on the Rathcoole estate in September 2002 at the height of the loyalist feud.

Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly said: ``The appeal court judgment will not be welcome by those who have suffered from the UDA sectarian attacks.''

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© 2003 Irish Republican News