UDA leaders were among a group of up to 15 unionist paramilitaries arrested on Friday after PSNI police raided a bar during a ‘show of strength’.
The UDA’s entire north Belfast ‘brigade staff’, including self-styled ‘brigadier’ Ihab Shoukri, are believed to have been arrested at the scene.
The PSNI mounted the dramatic raid on the Alexander Bar as the UDA men were rehearsing a major paramilitary display planned for Saturday night. The so-called ‘show of strength’ was intended to rally support for the organisation but threatened to increase instability in the North.
UDA supporters claimed teargas was fired during the operation through upstairs windows.
They said several leading UDA figures in the north of the city were arrested.
“There were around seven PSNI Land Rovers around the bar,” one loyalist source said.
“The place looked like it has been riddled with bullets. Five top windows were nearly completely in.
“Between ten to fifteen people were arrested and you are talking about some well-known figures.”
It is understood PSNI Land Rovers were also on standby late last in the nearby republican New Lodge area.
Sinn Fein members were concerned that the presence of the PSNI vehicles could attract young people wishing to attack them and they pleaded with them to go home and not get involved.
Sinn Fein North Belfast Councillor Caral Ni Chuilin said if it turned out that loyalists were planning a show of strength in the bar, it demonstrated how futile those actions were.
The councillor said: “It is ironic that years into an IRA ceasefire, months into a declaration of the end of its armed campaign and since weapons were put beyond use, that loyalist paramilitaries are still involved in shows of strength.
“If we are to go forward then we need loyalists to help their own communities and copper-fasten the peace process by putting the weapons beyond use and not engaging in this kind of activity.
“There is no need for armed organisations.”