16 April 2006

Confusion reigns over UDA's intentions following summit

Sunday Life

Stephen Breen
16 April 2006

THE UDA leadership in north Belfast has told its members it is giving up extortion, drug dealing and criminality.

Sunday Life understands the claim was made by a veteran UDA prisoner at a secret meeting - attended by 200 members of the terrorist group - in the area last Thursday.

But many of the organisation's members believe the statement was only made to prevent the UDA's ruling 'inner council' from ousting the north Belfast leadership, which includes Ihab Shoukri and Alan McClean.

The crunch summit was held after we revealed last week how death threats were issued to three senior loyalists after they had accused the local leadership of drug-dealing and criminality.

The threats were issued to veteran Sammy Duddy, UPRG spokesman John Bunting and another loyalist.

Ihab Shoukri is believed to have spoken at the meeting, where he defended the gambling habits of his brother, Andre.

A leading UDA figure from the Ballysillan area is also believed to have told the meeting that north Belfast remains "a strong unit" and will resist any attempt to topple its leaders.

More meetings are expected to be held over the coming weeks to discuss the future of the UDA in the north of the city.

We spoke to a number of UDA members who attended the meeting, which they described as tense.

Said one senior source: "The meeting was called on Thursday and a well-respected UDA man told the crowd north Belfast was giving up criminality.

"Ihab (Shoukri) also spoke up and said it was nobody's business what sort of money Andre was spending at the bookies, because it was 'his own money'.

"The members were told the UDA in north Belfast can sustain itself and is capable of dealing with anyone who takes action against it.

"But there were many members who didn't speak out because if they do, they are worried they will receive threats in the same way Sammy Duddy did.

"Many members also believe the statement is a smokescreen, and they will be back to the drugs and the criminality once the heat around the Shoukris dies down."

No one from the UPRG was available to comment on last week's meeting.

sbreen@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

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