Tensions rise as Andre Shoukri shows his face again
The return of loyalist maverick Andre Shoukri to his old stomping ground is raising tensions in north Belfast.
There are fears that the return of the ousted UDA leader after his release from prison will lead to bloodshed and an increase in drug dealing in loyalist areas.
Locals say Shoukri has been spotted with several other men in various parts of north Belfast since he was released in May — after he served four-and-a-half years for blackmail and extortion.
The former UDA ‘brigadier’ was spotted at several Eleventh night bonfires and other celebrations over the Twelfth.
On Tuesday he was stopped and searched by police on the Shore Road, just yards away from where local UDA leaders were meeting.
They watched from their offices as Shoukri was told to lie on the ground before he and his cronies were searched for weapons.
Shoukri originally said he would move to Spain on his release, but is now living in Glengormley on the edge of his former territory.
Sources say he is now boasting that he will regain control of the organisation in a matter of weeks. Fears are growing that any attampt to seize power will result in loyalist feuding and bloodshed. One resident from a loyalist area, who didn’t want to be named, said: “They talk about political animals and these boys are pretty much the same.
“They get addicted to power and want to strut around with everyone kowtowing to them.
“They can’t seem to realise that times have changed and nobody wants them anymore, but people are still scared they are trying to come back as we’ve seen the results before with the drugs and the feuds and the crime.”
Several threats have reportedly been issued to high-profile UDA leaders in the north Belfast area.
Some are said to have moved from their homes as a precaution.
The UDA, which is seeking to transform itself into a community organisation, has said it will let the PSNI handle the situation and will not get involved in violence.
The public face of the organisation, south Belfast leader Jackie McDonald, is understood to have already met with police chiefs.
Rev Robert Beckett of Crosscollyer Church said he felt tension in the area was rising.
He said: “It’s difficult to know exactly what is going on, but I hope it will all blow over without any violence.
“What has happened in north Belfast is nothing short of miraculous.
“It used to be that police couldn’t go into some places but now they can go in and are on first name terms with people.”
The PSNI said it had been called to deal with a “verbal clash” between groups of loyalists on Tuesday, but when officers arrived in the area, all was quiet.
A spokeswoman said officers would be continuing to patrol and police the area.
Analysis: A loyalist bogeyman haunting his old foes
By Brian Rowan
Andre Shoukri is one of those loyalists who’s always in the headlines, never quiet, never anonymous, always up to something. He is a bit like Johnny Adair.
At one time both had seats at the loyalist top table — inside the inner council leadership.
They were part of a collective paramilitary command, but both made the mistake of thinking they were bigger than the organisation, that they could rule the roost. Adair is now in exile, but after his release from prison Shoukri is in the face of the UDA in the north of the city.
What is happening there is a test for the organisation.
It is still trying to prove its commitment to the ceasefire and demonstrate that its decommissioning was genuine.
There are those who would gladly use old methods to deal with the Shoukri problem — reach for a gun, get it over and done with.
No one believes that every weapon was put beyond use.
But UDA leaders Jackie McDonald and John Bunting understand that if one bullet is fired then the UDA is finished.
That is why they want the PSNI to deal with this.
“It’s a policing problem,” Bunting told this newspaper.
“It’s everybody’s problem.”
Shoukri is one of the loyalist bogeymen — back to haunt a fragile peace.