15 April 2005

An Phoblacht

UDA internal feud escalates

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Andre Shoukri

Sources close to the UDA are warning of an internal power struggle within the loyalist paramilitary organisation.

East Belfast UDA boss Jim Gray was ousted from his position last week and there is now speculation that UDA leaders in North and West Belfast, Andre Shoukri (pictured) and Jim Spence, are also under threat.

Reports say that South Belfast UDA leader Jackie McDonald is vying for overall control of the organisation. The convicted extortionist is attempting to control the entire UDA, which has been traditionally split into six brigades areas, North, South, West and East Belfast, South Antrim and Derry/North Antrim.

Shoukri has been accused of skimming money from UDA funds to pay for his gambling habit, while Spence has been accused of being a Special Branch agent.

Spence incurred the wrath of rank-and-file members of the West Belfast UDA when he stood down a number of longstanding members in 2003.

However, attempts to oust 26-year-old Shoukri in the north of the city could be difficult, as he has the backing of young hardliners in the Tigers Bay, Westland and Ballysillan areas.

Meanwhile, former East Belfast brigadier Gray appeared at Banbridge Magistrates Court on Saturday charged with possession of criminal property and concealment of criminal property, contrary to the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

The court was told that, when arrested outside Loughbrickland on Friday, Gray had in his possession a Northern Bank draft for €10,000 and £2,720 and €270 in notes.

When charged on the first count, Gray replied that he could account for all the possessions found on him, but said he did not understand the second charge.

Magistrate Paul Copeland remanded him in custody to re-appear before Banbridge Magistrate Court by video link on Thursday.

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