There are mounting fears of a major feud among rival groups within the unionist paramilitary organisation UDA after its north Belfast units rejected instructions to expel its leadership.
The “North Belfast Brigade” of the UDA yesterday said it rejected the decision of the group’s ruling ‘inner council’ to expel brothers Ihab and Andre Shoukri, as well as close associate Alan McClean.
Andre and Ihab Shoukri have refused to stand down.
The north Belfast UDA said it had “consulted widely with its membership. It is their choice that the present leadership remain, with their full support and confidence. This decision should be fully respected and accepted”.
In a statement yesterday the north Belfast UDA brigade said it no longer recognised the inner council’s authority and warned it would not tolerate “any interference” in its area.
Claiming to have the backing of UDA men in north Belfast, the statement read: “It is their choice that the present leadership remain with their full support and confidence. This decision should be respected and accepted.
“Thus no interference in the affairs of north Belfast brigade will be tolerated.”
Graffiti defying the UDA expulsions appeared on walls close to the Shoukris’ powerbase on the Westland estate in north Belfast overnight.
Similar graffiti in other parts of north Belfast had been painted over yesterday afternoon.
Yesterday’s refusal to accept expulsion from the UDA had striking similarities to the last occasion when the paramilitary group found itself fatally divided.
In September 2002 Johnny Adair and John White publicly tore up a fax telling them they had been expelled from the UDA.
Ironically, it was the Shoukris’ support for the mainstream UDA that saw Adair and his supporters ousted.
The Shoukri brothers were expelled after Andre, nicknamed ‘the Egyptian’, was thrown out after reportedly squandering almost 1 million pounds sterling of crime proceeds during a two-year gambling spree.
Andre, who is in custody awaiting trial on blackmail, intimidation and money laundering charges, was part of a UDA delegation that held talks with former direct-rule secretary of state Paul Murphy in 2004.
While he has been held, Ihab acted as north Belfast ‘brigadier’.
Sinn Fein assembly member Gerry Kelly said it did not matter who headed the UDA, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and other loyalist organisations.
They were more interested in what activities loyalist groups were engaged in.
“Nationalists want to hear from the UDA and UVF that they are ending their sectarian campaign against Catholics, their racist attacks on ethnic minorities and the drug dealing and other activities they are engaged in,” he said.
HADDOCK FOR MAGHABERRY
A Belfast court has ruled that former leading UVF paramilitary Mark Haddock will be returned to Maghaberry Prison once he is released from hospital.
Haddock, who worked a double agent for the Special Branch police and has been linked to over a dozen murders, is in hospital after being shot several times by former assoicates in the UVF.
Belfast Crown Court revoked Haddock’s bail today ruling that when he was shot last month that he had breached his bail conditions, and refusing to transfer Haddock immediately to England.
Haddock is expected to be moved immediately into solitary confinement at Maghaberry. There he is expected to be joined by Andre Shoukri, whose safety inside Maghaberry prison is also of concern to prison officials following the UDA dispute.