18 May 2006

UDA set to meet over 'expulsion' for Shoukris

Belfast Telegraph

By Brian Rowan
18 May 2006

The UDA will not declare its decision on the future of the Shoukri brothers until after a leadership meeting, which has now been delayed until next week.

An 'investigation' into the alleged criminal activities of paramilitary leaders in north Belfast - including Andre and Ihab Shoukri - ended several days ago.

Meetings linked to that so-called investigation were held at Fernhill House in west Belfast - the venue for the loyalist ceasefire announcement in 1994.

According to one source, the police knew where the meetings were taking place.

It is believed that the Shoukris and their closest associates expected to know the outcome by now, but the UDA Inner Council - its "brigadier" leadership - has so far said nothing.

One source suggested that there was now some "panic" in the Shoukri camp, "as if the silence is driving them mad," he added.

Ihab Shoukri, who replaced his jailed brother Andre as "brigadier" in north Belfast, has been excluded from meetings of that leadership for many weeks.

He is alleged to have headbutted a "witness" at an earlier "investigation" meeting in Ballymoney and to have threatened another UDA leader.

Ihab Shoukri is also blamed for the planned paramilitary show-of-strength which was so publicly disrupted by the police in north Belfast in March.

Senior figures on the UDA Inner Council - and in the linked Ulster Political Research Group - want to expel the Shoukris and their associates, but a final decision will not be made until next week's leadership meeting.

The police and politicians are watching, and so too are others within the loyalist paramilitary world.

This 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 question now is can the Inner Council remove the Shoukris and avoid a split.

The UDA's final decision will be measured against claims that the organisation is determined to end crime and to re-involve itself in the peace process.

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