9 March 2006 Edition

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Shoukri free again

Loyalist gang leader, Ihab Shoukri, arrested in a PSNI raid on the Alexandra Bar in North Belfast, and later released, has escaped imprisonment again. At a court appearance on Wedesday, a judge refused to revoke his bail, ruling there was no evidence he had broken bail conditions.

After being arrested, and despite being in breach of his bail conditions for a second time, the PSNI released him. But an outcry from nationalist reperesentatives led to Shoukri's case be re-examined.

Shoukri, on bail awaiting trial for UDA membership, was one of 17 people arrested last Thursday night, 2 March during a rehearsal for a UDA 'show of strength'.

The PSNI fired stun grenades and CS gas into an upstairs function room before storming the premises and breaking down a steel door to gain entry.

Questions were raised in September 2004 after a High Court judge asked why Shoukri had not been arrested when the PSNI found him in Belfast in breach of conditions banning him from the city. In reply to the judge's query, a Crown barrister replied: "There are certain things I am not at liberty to go into at the moment."

Shoukri walked free only 48 hours after Thursday's incident, despite appearing to have broken bail conditions banning him from associating with known loyalists.

On Monday, eleven men charged in connection with the raid were remanded in custody.

Four of the men were charged with assisting in arranging or managing a meeting in support of the UDA. The other seven were accused of the same offence plus an additional charge of dressing in paramilitary clothing.

Ihab, along with six others, was released pending further reports to the Public Prosecution Service. Sinn Féin assembly member, Gerry Kelly, said "serious questions" remained over Shoukri's release.


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