Loyalist sources have claimed yesterday's murder on the Shankill Road was a “one-off” and dismissed fears of a feud between rival gangs.
Bobby Moffet (44), described as a loyalist with many enemies, was shot dead on the Shankill Road in a merciless lunchtime attack.
Sources last night said Mr Moffet had a background in the Red Hand Commando, closely linked to the UVF.
He is believed to have been targeted after falling out with loyalist figures.
There was also speculation that UVF elements were responsible for the murder.
Eyewitnesses told how he was shot several times in the face and head by two masked gunmen.
Loyalist organisations have, however, been seeking to distance themselves from the killing.
One senior loyalist source told this newspaper that the killing is likely to have been the work of “an individual or individuals” who “took it upon themselves”.
The murder — witnessed by children as young as 10 — has sparked fears of another bloody internal loyalist feud, but sources claim it is a “one-off”.
The shooting took place around 1pm, when the area was packed with lunchtime shoppers.
At least two masked gunmen wearing high visibility, fluorescent jackets opened fire at the corner of Conway Street and the Shankill Road.
Mr Moffet died later in hospital.
Bandages and blood on the road marked where he fell and where paramedics had tried to save his life.
Police have described his death as “a cold-blooded, ruthless killing”.
“It is a chilling reminder of a violent past that everyone in the community hoped we had left behind,” said Detective Inspector Justyn Galloway.
“Police would appeal to public representatives and community leaders to exercise their influence for calm at this time.”
Det Insp Galloway said he did not believe the killing to be sectarian, adding that detectives were pursuing “a number of definite lines of inquiry”.
Robert Gray, who lives near the scene, witnessed Mr Moffet’s murder.
“I heard about four shots — it sounded like a car back-firing,” he said.
“I saw the gunmen standing in the middle of the road with their balaclavas and their orange tops.
“Then I turned round and the bloke was lying there. He was shot in the head and face. He was obviously dying at the time. The gunmen ran down Conway Street and just disappeared. There was two of them.
“People came running out from the shops — there were kids about, the place was black with people. It was terrible.”
Another said: “The men just got out and shot him. It was bang, bang, bang. The man just fell.”
Bill Manwaring, who is a member of the UUP, arrived at the scene moments after the shooting and tried to offer first aid to the dying man.
He said Mr Moffet had suffered severe injuries to his face and hand. “There were young children on the street when this happened,” he said.
“It happened in plain view of people.
“The man had horrific injuries. It was awful.
“We don’t expect it any more. We have moved so far away from this sort of activity, and we need to make sure that this is recognised as unacceptable.”
Justice Minister David Ford condemned the killing, adding: “This cold-blooded murder in broad daylight will shock people across Northern Ireland.”
Secretary of State Owen Paterson described the murder as “an evil act”.
“To murder this man was an evil act but to do it in the middle of the day, on a busy road full of local people going about their normal business, only adds to the horror and the sense of shock and revulsion,” he said.
The Shankill Road was the scene of much bloodshed during the Troubles and since the ceasefires of the 1990s has witnessed a number of killings linked to turf wars between loyalist paramilitary groups.