DERRY — A leading former member of Northern Ireland’s largest unionist-loyalist paramilitary group was assassinated at his home in Belfast.
Jim Gray, a former commander in the Ulster Defense Association (UDA), was shot late Tuesday several times at close range in his doorway by two gunmen. His killing came six months after his ouster from the UDA, of which he was a commander, following a dispute with his former colleagues.
The 43-year-old ex-militant was out on bail and awaiting trial on money laundering and stolen property charges. Gray was arrested near the border of the Irish Republic in April, and was thought to be trying to leave Northern Ireland.
On Wednesday, six people were arrested as part of a police investigation into the murder. However no group has taken responsibility for Gray’s death.
In 2002, he survived an assassination attempt, though a bullet grazed him in the head.
Detective Superintendent George Hamilton said the involvement of the UDA was a “major line of inquiry” in the investigation.
Speculation suggests that Gray was killed to prevent him from testifying about loyalist crimes in court, going by unnamed sources close to the UDA quoted in Belfast’s daily newspapers on Wednesday.
His murder is the latest in a series of violent incidents between Northern Ireland loyalist factions. Throughout the summer, the Ulster Volunteer Force reportedly sought to drive families of the rival Loyalist Volunteer Force from their homes in Belfast.
The Independent Monitoring Commission, a body set up by the British and Irish government to report on paramilitary activities, reported recently that five people had been killed as a result of internal loyalist feuding.
Gray was a recognizable figure in loyalist circles and his penchant for flamboyant dress earning him the nickname “Doris Day.”
According to Henry McDonald, co-author of The UDA: Inside the Heart of Loyalist Terror, his flair and taste for the finer things in life ran in contrast to the UDA’s working-class ideals.
“While his fellow UDA men lived frugal lives in the working class estates of east Belfast, Gray lived the high life on the proceeds of crime,” McDonald told ISN Security Watch.
“He would breakfast every morning on salmon at his favorite restaurant in east Belfast before snorting several lines of cocaine to set himself up for the remainder of the day.”
But the UDA appeared to lose patience with Gray, prompting his removal as their so-called “East Belfast Brigadier.”
His death negated the possibility of a much anticipated trial that could have shed new light on Gray’s alleged criminal dealings and the UDA underworld.
Meanwhile, Democratic Unionist Party deputy leader Peter Robinson on Tuesday condemned the murder.
“Those who take the law into their own hands have nothing to contribute to society,” said Robinson.Show