- The Washington Times - Friday, August 25, 2000

BELFAST Guns are blazing again in the Shankill Road, but the fighting is no longer between Protestants and Catholics.

Two Protestant militias are feuding over pride, territory and a burgeoning drug trade, with much of the violence inspired by a convicted terrorist who was released from prison under the Good Friday peace accord.

In the third murder this week, two masked men identified with the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) broke into the home of 21-year-old Samuel Rocket on Wednesday night and gunned him down in front of his girlfriend and child.

Police thwarted what may have been a reprisal attack yesterday when they arrested six armed men near Shankill Road a main street through the Protestant part of Belfast that this week is being patrolled by British troops for the first time in two years.

Major political and religious leaders are calling for mediation to end the fighting, described by Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson as "squalid, murderous, gang warfare."

But militia leaders on both sides are skeptical. John White, whose Ulster Democratic Party has links to the UFF, said the latest killings are "something we are going to see more of."

Billy Hutchinson, a politician close to the rival Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), was quoted yesterday saying, "There are those on both sides hellbent on continuing it until they feel they have drawn enough blood."

Much of the blame is being placed on UFF leader Johnny "Mad Dog" Adair, a terror kingpin said by police sources to have seized control of the drug trade around Shankill Road after being released from prison in September under the Good Friday accord designed to end 25 years of sectarian warfare.

Tensions between the UFF and the UVF already had led to five deaths this year before the UVF murdered two men on Monday. The coffin of one of those men, Bobby Mahood, was carried through the Shankill area yesterday, followed by hundreds of Protestants.

The killings outside a betting shop followed weekend clashes in which 10 persons were hurt and a number of houses torched.

On Tuesday, Mr. Mandelson accused Adair of being involved in the "commission, preparation and instigation of acts of terrorism" and had him arrested.

British troops, called into the area for the first time since the Good Friday pact brokered by U.S. mediator George Mitchell, have helped limit the unrest but were unable to prevent the latest killing Wednesday evening.

During their decades-long struggle against the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the Protestant militias learned to control their own communities through a combination of extortion, assassination and racketeering.

In the early 1990s, Adair led the UFF's most brutal murder gang, which was responsible for more than 70 killings. Adair distinguished himself with ruthlessness and daring, openly scouting Catholic neighborhoods for possible targets.

"He went into the lion's mouth to extract the teeth," said a source in the Royal Ulster Constabulary who has followed Adair's career. "Everything he told his people to do, Adair had once done himself."

Adair escaped numerous IRA assassination attempts and criminal prosecutions until he finally was sentenced to 16 years for directing terrorism in 1995.

"He is a cult figure with disciples," said the RUC source. "He has the power of life or death. If he told his henchmen to kill someone while he watched, they would do it. That is the kind of control he has."

Since Adair's release, his UFF gang has imposed its predominance in the Shankill Road area. UFF wall murals have mushroomed, and in several high-profile "shows of force," masked UFF gunmen brandished weapons or stopped traffic at makeshift roadblocks all to the chagrin of the UVF.

Most worrying for security forces, Adair has built an alliance with the breakaway Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) whose past leader, Billy "King Rat" Wright, was shot dead in the Maze prison in 1998. Adair is trying to fill Wright's shoes, security sources fear, and create a new league of disaffected pro-British Loyalists to join his drug and terror franchise.

Mr. Mandelson said he hopes Adair's arrest will allow the warring factions to make peace, an unlikely outcome in the short term since both sides are still calling for vengeance.

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