10 March 2006

Nationalist tension on the increase after a new wave of death threats


North Belfast on high alert as Sinn Féin dismisses UDA claims of reduced criminality

Nationalist North Belfast is on high alert after a wave of UDA death threats were delivered to homes late on Tuesday night by the PSNI.
The threats, mostly to Catholic taxi drivers, claim an attack is imminent and that “someone was going to be shot”.
The sinister letters come on the back of a murder bid on a Catholic taxi driver at the weekend in Ligoniel.
Following a PSNI raid on the Alexandra bar on the York Road a court heard the UDA was intending to announce an end to criminality, a claim dismissed by Sinn Féin.
Local MLA Gerry Kelly said the subsequent death threats exposed such a claim by the UDA as a sham.
“These threats are the most recent attempt by the UDA in North Belfast to crank up sectarian tension and intimidation,” he said.
“This latest development coupled with the attempted murder of a taxi man at the weekend is further evidence that the UDA’s public pronouncements on ending criminality are nothing more than a PR stunt,” he said.
“How do they square this circle when they are making threats under the names of the Red Hand Defenders?”
He called on unionist leaders to condemn the threats.
“I want to take this opportunity to call upon unionist politicians to stand with the rest of us in solidarity with those providing a public service to have the death threats against the nationalist community of North Belfast removed.”
John Bunting of the UPRG said he had spoken to members of the UDA about the threats to Catholic taxi drivers.
“I’ve spoken to the UDA about this and there’s no threat to anyone, be they Catholic, republican or a taxi driver from the UDA in North Belfast. I totally condemn what has happened.
“There is no Red Hand Defenders and even the dogs in the street know the codeword, so it could be anybody putting the mix in.”
The PSNI said they raided the Alexandra bar because they believed a paramilitary event was being organised.
Eleven men have since been charged with attempting to organise a meeting in support of the UDA – six were released pending a report to the Public Prosecution Service.
DUP MP Nigel Dodds said he would be writing to the Chief Constable Hugh Orde about police tactics during the raid.
North Belfast loyalist Ihab Shoukri was one of the men arrested during the dramatic swoop on the alleged bar event, which Chief Constable Hugh Orde has described as “no teddy bear’s picnic”.
Ihab Shoukri is currently awaiting trial on charges of UDA/UFF membership. On Wednesday Belfast Crown Court refused the PSNI’s application to revoke his bail.
Judge Tom Burgess said the accused was downstairs while an alleged UDA meeting was going on upstairs and there was no evidence he had broken his bail.
The PSNI had claimed he breached bail conditions banning him from associating with paramilitaries by being in a bar where they were meeting.
Meanwhile the controversial Independent Monitoring Commission produced its ninth report yesterday.
It said the IRA does not pose a “terrorist threat” as it has decided to follow a political path.
But in relation to loyalist activity, it maintained that while loyalists were heavily involved in organised crime, there were signs of a possible readiness to abandon some of its criminality.

Journalist:: Áine McEntee

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