04 March 2006

Shoukri bail deal comes under fire

Belfast Telegraph

Leading loyalist among 17 held at bar

By Jonathan McCambridge
03 March 2006

Serious questions about bail policies in Ulster's courts were raised today after it emerged that a number of those arrested during a dramatic police raid on a north Belfast bar are already charged with terrorist offences.

Leading loyalist Ihab Shoukri and 16 other men were arrested as police raided The Alexandra bar in Tiger's Bay last night as part of an operation against the UDA.

Well-known loyalist Shoukri's bail conditions were initially restrictive - including being barred from entering Belfast - but were gradually softened by the judiciary.

His final restriction allowed him greater freedom except he had to be indoors by 10pm. He is also not allowed to associate with his brother Andre.

SDLP Justice spokesman, Alban Maginness, said the case raised serious issues over defendants being released on bail while on terrorist offences.

"The first thing police will have to do is establish if there has been any breach of bail conditions and act accordingly.

"We are stuck in a position because of human rights legislation that even those who are charged with terrorist offences are given the protection of a liberal approach to bail."

Windows at the bar were riddled with holes after the police discharged irritant rounds containing CS gas, and doors were ripped off their hinges as scores of police officers in riot gear swooped during an alleged rehearsal for a paramilitary show of strength last night.

Stunned residents and onlookers told the Belfast Telegraph of the confusion as they believed that a gun battle had taken place on their doorsteps. People who were drinking in the premises described how they dived for cover as the police raid began.

In the bar was Ihab Shoukri, who is currently awaiting charges on relating to membership of the UDA and UFF. He had his bail conditions varied recently to allow him to return to north Belfast.

Another of those arrested is Gary MacKenzie, who is currently on bail facing charges of attempting to murder four police officers on the Westland Road and membership of the UFF.

Loyalist sources have told the Belfast Telegraph that at least one other person arrested in the Alexandra was also on bail.

A police spokeswoman said: "There have been a total of 17 arrests in connection with serious crime following the police operation in the York Road area of north Belfast last night. There are no further details available."

However, UDA sources have told the Belfast Telegraph that five of the men arrested in the bar were in "battle gear" as they rehearsed for a show of strength which had been due to take place tonight.

The source said: "This was a well organised police operation and they obviously had been watching the men for some time.

"There was supposed to be a fund-raising function in the bar tonight and as part of that a show of strength was planned. That would have involved imitation firearms and a speech.

"There were no guns found by police because guns were not being used.

"Some of those who were arrested were in battle- dress, including balaclavas."

Local DUP councillor, Ian Crozier, was at the scene last night and described the confusion.

"When I got there people were in a panic because they thought it was like something out of the OK Corral. It took some time to find out that live rounds had not been used, but the situation was tense."

North Belfast MP, Nigel Dodds, said: "We were getting reports of bangs in the area, and there was even a rumour of fatalities.

"Thankfully, that was not the case. People were describing almost a cops and robbers scenario. Obviously we will have to wait and see what emerges following this incident, what charges there are and what evidence is brought forward by the police.

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