The funeral has taken place of UDA ‘brigadier’ Ihab Shoukri, who died this week after taking a fit brought on by a night of heavy drug use in Newtonabbey, outside Belfast.
The death of the high-profile sectarian killer and crime lord was not considered a surprise as a result of his heavy drugs use.
The 34-year-old had spent much of a recent short period in Maghaberry jail for UDA membership confined to his cell in a drug-induced state.
In a rare conviction, he was sentenced to 15 months in prison in June after pleading guilty to membership of the organisation but with remission and time served in remand was freed within weeks.
Since his release, Shoukri had resumed his position as ‘brigadier’ of the north Belfast UDA while his brother Andre was in prison. Often called ‘the Egyptian’, Shoukri became known as ‘the blingadier’ for his extravagant lifestyle.
In 2006 previous charges of UDA membership against the north Belfast loyalist were dropped after a judge ruled there was a not enough evidence to convict him.
The notorious paramilitary openly admitted to killing Catholics, but his ability to avoid long jail sentences led to claims by rivals and nationalists that he was being protected by the Crown forces.
Both brothers were expelled from the ranks of the UDA in 2006, along with associate Alan McClean, amid allegations that they were siphoning off money from the UDA.
A failure by the paramilitary group’s south-east Antrim faction to back the move resulted in a split within the organisation.
In an organisation that has long standing links with right wing neo- nazi groups, the part-Arab brothers were an unusual addition. Born to an Egyptian father and an Irish mother, they killed Catholics simply to boost their status among their supporters.
A reporter once asked Shoukri why young men like Daniel McColgan, murdered as he went to work in Rathcoole postal sorting office, and Gavin Brett, a Protestant 19-year-old gunned down by mistake as he spoke to his Catholic friends, were being killed as a result of feuding within the UDA in 2002.
“Well [former west Belfast UDA leader] Johnny Adair has been running round killing Catholics,” he said.
“Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve no problem killing Catholics but the problem is every time Johnny Adair kills a Catholic, three or four of my men are off the streets.”
On Saturday night Shoukri is reported to have been snorting cocaine for most of the evening and is believed to have earlier taken a prescription heroin substitute.
However, his family has denied this, claiming he died in his sleep after playing football.
His brother was given temporary release from Maghaberry to attend the funeral.
The low-key funeral procession was delayed by the PSNI in order to remove two suspicious devices.
The hoaxes, one in Shoukri’s Rathcoole estate and one at the church where the funeral ceremony took place, were blamed on elements within the mainstream UDA.
In a separate incident, five pipe bombs and a large quantity of ammunition were seized from a house in Newtownabbey on Tuesday night. Sinn Féin’s Mitchel McLaughlin said that people were concerned what the UDA was planning with these weapons.
“If anything this find reinforces the fact that continued pressure, especially from the British government and the unionist parties, needs to be brought to bear on unionist paramilitaries to once and for get all their deadly arsenal off the streets.”