High-profile Protestant militant shot to death in Belfast
BELFAST, Northern Ireland – One of Northern Ireland’s most high-profile Protestant militants was shot to death outside his home Tuesday night, more than six months after he was ousted by his outlawed group.Two gunmen fired several shots at Jim Gray after he answered his door in Protestant east Belfast, his longtime power base, police said. Detectives covered his body with a white sheet as they searched outside his home for evidence.No group claimed responsibility for his assassination, but a previous assassination attempt in 2002 came during a feud among Protestant militants involved in Belfast’s thriving drug trade.Gray, 43, had been free on bail while awaiting trial on charges of money laundering, concealing stolen property and other offenses connected to his past ownership of two Belfast pubs and other property.Gray had been one of the six regional commanders of the outlawed Ulster Defense Association, Northern Ireland’s largest outlawed group, until March 30, when colleagues ousted him. Police arrested him a week later in a car containing more than $60,000 in cash.Gray was both a much-feared and much-lampooned figure. With his year-round tan, shock of bleach-blond hair and penchant for Hawaiian shirts, he was known widely – although rarely to his face – by the nickname “Doris Day.”But those who crossed him could suffer severe beatings or death. While a UDA commander he often confronted personal enemies with his bodyguards; an Associated Press reporter witnessed one such attack in June 2002, when Gray and an underling bludgeoned a man in full view of thousands of Belfast concert-goers.Gray was grazed in the head with a bullet, but didn’t suffer any serious injuries, in September 2002 during a feud between the UDA and another illegal Protestant gang, the Loyalist Volunteer Force.The UDA, which has an estimated 2,000 members in this British territory of 1.7 million, was founded in 1971 as a loose umbrella for neighborhood vigilante groups in working-class Protestant areas. It was responsible for killing about 400 people, mostly Catholic civilians, before calling a 1994 cease-fire.That truce has been repeatedly violated, partly because of UDA involvement in so many illegal schemes that fuel deadly feuds internally and with other Protestant gangs.The UDA, like other armed groups with official truces, was supposed to have disarmed fully by mid-2000 under terms of Northern Ireland’s Good Friday peace accord of 1998. But the UDA refused, citing the continued existence of the much more sophisticated Irish Republican Army, the major illegal group in Catholic areas.Despite its large membership, the UDA plays no meaningful role in on-again, off-again negotiations on Northern Ireland’s future. Its political wing disbanded in 2001 after failing to build a coherent electoral base.Vail, Colorado
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