A post mortem examination is due to be carried out today on the body of loyalist terror boss Ihab Shoukri.
Police are understood to be investigating a drugs link after the ousted UDA brigadier collapsed while watching the Ricky Hatton boxing match at a house in the Grainon Way area of Newtownabbey on Saturday night.
Last night a spokeswoman for the PSNI confirmed they were investigating the sudden death of a 34-year-old man but stressed there were no suspicious circumstances.
Rumours circulating in the Rathcoole estate, where Shoukri had been living since his release from jail, suggest he may have suffered some sort of seizure – possibly an epileptic fit.
In 2004, Ihab Shoukri collapsed in a bookmaker’s shop while out on bail for charges of membership of the UFF and UDA. He suffered a fractured cheek and required treatment at hospital. In an appeal for a change to his bail conditions that would allow him to live with his girlfriend’s mother, Shoukri’s lawyer told Belfast High court there were fears he could suffer from “epilepsy of something of that nature”. The appeal was refused but the judge said Shoukri could make arrangements for someone to move into his Bangor home.
Originally from the Westland estate in north Belfast, Ihab Shoukri was one of three boys born to an Egyptian father who married a local woman.
In June he was jailed for 15 months after pleading guilty to membership of the UDA. He was among five men arrested when police stormed a paramilitary show of strength dress rehearsal at the Alexandra Bar in March 2006.
However there was public outrage when the infamous loyalist who played a prominent role in a vicious terrorist campaign and racketeering operation was released just weeks into the sentence because of the length of time spent on remand.
Nationalist politicians were critical of the sentencing after the judge in the case said Shoukri only escaped a longer jail term because of progress in the peace process.
Ihab and his brother Andre were expelled from the UDA two years ago after establishing a breakaway faction which was involved in widespread criminality including drug dealing in south east Antrim.
Andre Shoukri (30) first became known after being charged with the manslaughter of a young tennis star in Belfast in 1996.
He punched Gareth Parker – a Catholic – who fell on the road and was hit by a car. Shoukri pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of assault and received an eight-month jail sentence.
He became known as the ‘bookies brigadier’ after he squandered more than £1m of the UDA’s funds gambling on horses.
Last November Ihab Shoukri took over leadership of the group when his brother was jailed for nine years for blackmail and intimidation and money laundering.
In August he was back in court in Belfast after pleading guilty to a string of motoring offenses including driving while disqualified and having no insurance.
A police source once said of the gang led by the Shoukris: “They thought they were above the law... You could say they thought they were untouchable.”
Journalist Jim McDowell, whose book ‘Mummy’s Boys’ documents the life and crimes of both brothers, described the Shoukris as “para-mafia gangsters”.
“The relationship between myself and the Shoukris is well documented. It was fairly antagonistic relationship and I have received a number of threats which the police have brought to my home that I believe them to have come from the Shoukris or their mob. But I am not gloating over anybody death.
“Both Andre and Ihab were already ostracised from the UDA. Andre is behind bars and is therefore ineffective even in aligning himself with the breakaway east Antrim faction that they established.
“Drugs were endemic and if it was a drugs overdose that took the life of Ihab Shourki then he died from his own excess.”
Baroness May Blood, who has spent decades working in loyalist communities, said: “There possibly could be a turf war out of it (Ihab’s death). I hope it does not lead to violence in our streets.”
March 2006 Ihab Shoukri arrested in police raid on north Belfast bar. UDA had been preparing for a show-of-strength.
June 2006 UDA Inner Council leadership expels Shoukri brothers and associate Alan McClean from paramilitary organisation. Statement reads: “It is our duty as defenders of the Protestant people whom we serve to create safer communities that are drug and crime free and where our people can live without fear of oppression.”
August 2006 UDA force Shoukri associates including McClean to flee Belfast