Jim Gray, until recently the east Belfast brigadier of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), the largest loyalist group in Northern Ireland, was shot twice in the chest by men who burst into his mother's home yesterday. He had answered a knock at the door of the house in Clarawood estate, a loyalist area.
Gray, 47, had been released on bail on 15 September after spending some months in prison on charges of money-laundering and possession of the proceeds of crime.
Half a dozen Protestants have this year been killed in loyalist feuding, chiefly between the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Loyalist Volunteer Force.
The Gray killing is however most likely to have resulted from tensions within the UDA. Since his arrest, former colleagues have been " bad-mouthing" him in public, leading to speculation that his life was at risk.
The Crown opposed granting bail to him, saying that he was under threat from paramilitaries and warning that his release could result in violence.
Gray, whose nickname was 'Doris Day' for his flambouyant dress sense and dyed hair, was heavily involved with drugs, both as a cocaine user and as large-scale dealer. He was reputed to have made large amounts of money from drugs and protection racketeering and extortion. When arrested in April of this year, he had almost £300,000 in cash and a banker's draft for £10,000. He is also believed to have owned a series of properties in Belfast and Spain.
A number of senior UDA figures have been imprisoned or lost their positions in recent years as the organisation has gone through turmoil.
Serious internal trouble was stirred up by its one-time leader Johnny " Mad Dog" Adair, including the murder of another UDA brigadier, John Gregg. Adair has since moved to Bolton, where he has repeatedly been in trouble with the law.
The Gray killing happened hours after the Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Hain, urged loyalist paramilitary groups to end their violence and follow the example of the IRA in decommissioning their weapons. Loyalist violence has been evident throughout this year, with serious riots breaking out in several parts of Belfast in recent weeks, as well as campaigns of intimidation in the city and in County Antrim.
The East Belfast Democratic Unionist MP, Peter Robinson, condemned the killing of Jim Gray, saying, "Those who take the law into their own hands have nothing to contribute to society. There is no excuse for acting as judge, jury and executioner."
As the recent rioting indicated, the extreme Protestant groups are in a militant frame of mind at the moment. Gray was expelled from the leadership of the UDA earlier this year, and police will now be watching to see whether his killing is followed by a purge of those who were close to him.
The authorities have said that millions of pounds has been spent on police overtime in an attempt to quell UVF LVF feuding, and in response to the rioting.
A summer of violence
* 1 JULY: Jameson Lockhart shot dead by UVF in east Belfast
* 11 JULY: Craig McCausland shot dead by UVF in north Belfast
* 30 JULY: Stephen Paul shot dead by UVF in north Belfast
* 15 AUGUST: Michael Green shot dead by UVF in south Belfast
* SEPTEMBER: Attacks on police by UVF and UDAReuse content