Belfast braced for new loyalist feud as 'Mad Dog' Adair nears jail release

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The Independent Online

The authorities are hoping the imminent release from prison of the man regarded as Northern Ireland's most erratic and dangerous terrorist will not lead to an escalation of violence.

The authorities are hoping the imminent release from prison of the man regarded as Northern Ireland's most erratic and dangerous terrorist will not lead to an escalation of violence.

Johnny "Mad Dog" Adair, the loyalist regarded as one of the most lethal leaders of the paramilitary Ulster Defence Association, is due for release this month. The security forces are braced for the possibility that either Adair or his many enemies in the loyalist underworld will become embroiled in revenge attacks.

His periods of freedom have often coincided with savage feuding either inside the UDA or within other loyalist groupings. The UDA has expelled Adair, and its leaders hold him responsible for the feud killing of loyalist icon John Gregg in February of last year. Associates of Gregg make little secret of the fact that Adair is on a death list, and would be a marked man if he re-appeared on the streets of Belfast.

Following the Gregg murder, some of the Adair family fled to Bolton in Lancashire, where Adair's son and two associates were later imprisoned for supplying heroin and crack cocaine.

Adair is said to have indicated to the authorities that on his release he intends to move to Bolton, and they will gladly help to facilitate his emigration.

But - as his nickname suggests - he is regarded as so unstable and vengeance-driven that little confidence can be placed in his statements.

Some of Adair's associates in Bolton occasionally threaten to return to Belfast, a move which would almost certainly bring fresh outbreaks of violence.

While many prominent figures, both republican and loyalist, have quietly faded away during the course of the peace process, Adair has been conspicuously belligerent and ready to resort to violence in pursuit of his ambitions.

His enemies accused him of wanting to take over the entire UDA and thus control much of the Belfast drugs trade.

Other loyalists blame him for introducing a flood of drugs to the Shankill Road loyalist heartland of Belfast.

Adair also ordered the expulsion of many families from his territory in feuds which cost many lives and inflicted widespread damage in working-class Protestant communities.

He was released from prison under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, but a year ago the Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy ordered his return to jail, saying he had been involved in directing terrorism, drugs, weapons offences and extortion.

Since then, the authorities have put much effort into calming down loyalist groupings and attempting to encourage less extreme elements in their ranks. In this, they have made some progress, though killings and robberies persist.

In 2004, loyalists killed three of the four people who died violently. All three of the loyalist victims met their death in internal disputes. This death toll was the lowest since the troubles began in the late 1960s.

None of the four deaths involved the IRA, which for most of the troubles represented the greatest taker of life.

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