06 March 2006

Shoukri walks free as 11 face court on raid drama

Belfast Telegraph

Jonathan McCmbridge
06 March 2006

Eleven men were appearing in court today charged with helping to set up a meeting supporting the UDA following dramatic police raids on a north Belfast bar - but leading terror suspect Ihab Shoukri will not be one of them.

Concern has been expressed that Shoukri, one of 17 men arrested after police swooped on the Alexandra Bar in Tiger's Bay last Thursday, remains on the streets following the controversy. He is awaiting trial on charges of UDA membership and his once-stringent bail conditions have been relaxed since his original court appearance.

Six of the 17 men, including Shoukri, have been released pending files for the Public Prosecution Service. A woman who was arrested on Friday has also been released. The remaining 11 will appear at Belfast Magistrates Court charged with arranging, managing or assisting in a meeting to support the UDA/UFF.

Seven of them also face further charges of wearing clothing in circumstances in which they are suspected to be members of the UDA/UFF. Police raided the Alexandra Bar last week during an alleged rehearsal for a UDA show of strength.

Shoukri, who is currently charged with a terrorist offence, was in the bar when police fired irritant rounds through the windows. Last week the Belfast Telegraph raised concerns over the bail conditions for Shoukri, who is already facing charges of membership of the UDA and UFF. However, despite last week's arrest he has now been freed again pending reports.

SDLP Justice spokesman Alban Maginness said it was "unbelievable" that Shoukri was now free to walk the streets again. "This is a well known loyalist who was in the company of UDA men at a UDA event where people were dressed in paramilitary uniform," he said.

"To add to this he is already on bail after being charged with serious terrorist offences. "I find it extraordinary and unbelievable that he has not already been brought before the courts."

Shoukri has previously been found by police to be in breach of bail conditions. In September 2004 a High Court judge asked why police had not arrested him when they caught him in Belfast despite a bail condition which banned him from the city.

A Crown barrister told the judge: "There are certain things I am not at liberty to go into at the moment."

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