08 March 2006

Shoukri emerges out of brother's shadow

Belfast Telegraph

By Jonathan McCambridge
08 March 2006

For years Ihab Shoukri has lived in the shadow of his notorious brother Andre.

When the two brothers were convicted of a blackmail offence in 2000 - for forcing a pizza business to pay protection money - it was Andre, widely believed to be the UDA's north Belfast commander, who attracted most of the headlines. But last week's events in the Alexandra bar changed that for ever.

Among differing accounts, the one thing that is certain is Ihab was in the Alexandra Bar when police launched a raid last Thursday.

His defence team alleges that he had merely gone to the bar for a drink and was not involved in any UDA activity. Police believe he has broken the terms of his bail and should be put back in prison.

Ihab (31), has now found himself in the middle of a dispute between the Chief Constable and the judiciary and the subject of immense public concern about his bail conditions.

Ihab Shoukri has been waiting almost three years for his trial on two counts of UDA/UFF membership. During that time the issue of his bail has continued to attract controversy.

In 2004, Shoukri revoked his own bail because he believed the terms were so onerous he could not live under them.

He was granted fresh bail in April of last year but ordered to stay out of Belfast, Newtownabbey and Bangor and not to associate with anyone convicted of a terrorist offence. This would have included his brother Andre.

However, the terms have been altered on several occasions. Last May, the condition that he does not associate with anyone convicted of a terrorist offence was removed and in October a court agreed that he could stay at an address in Belfast.

This was despite an incident last September when he was seen by police in Belfast - in breach of his bail condition at the time. When a judge asked a Crown Court lawyer why Shoukri had not been arrested immediately he was told: "There are certain things I am not at liberty to go into."

Shoukri's latest curfew dictates that he must stay indoors after 10pm - the Alexandra Bar raid took place before 7.30pm. It has also been admitted that the Alexandra Bar was not part of any exclusion zone set out by Shoukri's bail conditions. However, police claim that his presence in the Alexandra goes against the "spirit" of his bail while he is facing a charge of UDA membership.

Perhaps stung by criticism directed against him in court yesterday, Sir Hugh Orde pointed out the PSNI had opposed the variations in Shoukri's bail conditions. This, he said, was the responsibility of the "judges, not the police".

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