27 May 2006

Shoukri brothers under pressure

Belfast Telegraph

By Debra Douglas
27 May 2006

The security forces were step ping up patrols in north Belfast last night over fears of a bloody UDA feud.

The fate of the Shoukri brothers was under the spotlight once again as they met their supporters in the city.

With the UDA Inner Council set to declare its decision on the future of Andre and Ihab within the organisation early next week, last-minute crunch talks were taking place last night.

An 'investigation' into the alleged criminal activities of paramilitary leaders in north Belfast - including Andre and Ihab Shoukri ended about two weeks ago but the brothers are still waiting to hear the outcome.

The inquiry followed allegations that 28-year-old Andre, whose brother Ihab is the UDA's North Belfast brigadier, gambled more than £860,000 over a two-year period.

During it, churchmen and community workers in north Belfast told the 'inner council' that crime and drug-dealing in the area had been substantially reduced over the last 18 months.

And businessmen in the area also told how they have been forced to hand over large sums of cash to the Shoukris.

The decision whether or not to expel the brothers is seen as the biggest test of the UDA's authority since it expelled its Shankill leader Johnny Adair and his associate John White.

The UDA wants to deal with the issue peacefully, but fears a 'last stand' by the Shoukris could spill over into a bloody feud.

Senior figures on the inner council - and in the linked Ulster Political Research Group - want to expel the Shoukris and their associates.

There is also concern in some camps that if the brothers are not expelled, it could lead to friction with other UDA leaders.

But others fear attempts to force the north Belfast leadership to back down could result in a bloody split.

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