A gun attack on a Catholic taxi driver in north Belfast at the weekend is the start of a killing campaign against all republican ex-prisoners, according to the unionist paramilitary UDA.
Using a recognised code word, a caller to a Belfast newsroom claimed responsibility for the gun attack on a taxi driver in north Belfast. He made the call in the name of the Red Hand Defenders, a flag of convenience for the Ulster Defence Association.
The caller claimed the target was a former IRA prisoner and added that similar attacks would follow.
On Saturday night, a gang of four UDA men were travelling in the taxi when one held a gun to the victim’s head. He attempted to shoot the victim twice but the gun jammed. A struggle ensued and the driver managed to run from the car uninjured, while his attackers fled in the direction of a loyalist estate.
The incident folllows a major PSNI operation against the north Belfast UDA which resulted in 17 arrests last Thursday. Sinn Féin councillor Caral Ni Chuilin said unionists paramilitaries were now actively targeting the nationalist community.
“After the arrests of a number of leading loyalists in north Belfast recently it was only a matter of time before their supporters lashed out at the nationalist community,” she said.
“This taxi driver is lucky to be alive. This was a pre-planned sectarian murder bid.”
PSNI police delivered a warning of death threats made against at least three North Belfast taxi firms and to the homes of a number of local men on Tuesday night.
Sinn Féin assembly member Gerry Kelly said the developments were further evidence that the UDA’s public claims on ending its activities were nothing more than a ‘PR stunt’. “How do they square this circle when they are making threats under the names of the Red Hand Defenders,” he asked.
Mr Kelly said the DUP had created a political vacuum in which loyalist violence could flourish. The north Belfast representative said the DUP could not divorce itself from the attempted murder and urged the party to speak out publicly and call on the UDA to withdraw such threats.”
“Here we have an organisation intent on killing a Catholic in the past few days. There is no excuse for it,” Mr Kelly said. “The DUP need to take some of the blame for this. They have created a political vacuum and, with the governments pandering to the DUP, it unfortunately has this type of result.
“It did not take a great understanding of our history to predict that this would happen. A Catholic man almost paid with his life on Saturday night as a result.
“The DUP need to realise that there is a price being paid for their continuing failure to engage, and the two governments have to realise that there is a price being paid for their continuing pandering to the DUP.”
The Sinn Féin spokesman on policing and justice said the DUP was guilty of double standards.
“The DUP sit on forums with the UDA, the organisation responsible for this murder bid. Yet they continue to refuse to engage with Sinn Féin about the business of putting the political institutions back in place. Their hypocrisy is breathtaking.”
SHOUKRI GOES FREE
The attack and threats were being seen as a direct result of the PSNI raids last week.
Senior north Belfast loyalist Ihab Shoukri was one of 17 people arrested after police raided a north Belfast bar on Thursday.
However, Shoukri walked free 48 hours later despite being caught in a room with men in paramilitary uniform and appearing to have broken bail conditions banning him from entering Belfast and associating with known paramilitaries.
Nationalists have routinely protested at the apparent inability to put Mr Shoukri behind bars. The so-called ‘brigadier’, who is awaiting trial for UDA membership, previously broke bail conditions in 2004, but was again released.
Gerry Kelly said “serious questions” remained over Shoukri’s recent release, which was confirmed by a Belfast court on Wednesday. He also called for nationalists to be vigilant following the recent increase in tension in Belfast.
“The UDA and PSNI seem to be at loggerheads and in those situations it is often the case that nationalists become targets,” he said.
“I would appeal for people to vigilant in regards to their personal safety.”