Top loyalists Andre and Ihab Shoukri have been thrown out of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), the paramilitary organisation said today.
The brothers, who commanded the UDA’s North Belfast unit, were kicked out along with a third member, Alan McClean.
In a statement the grouping said: “We, the ruling body of the above named association, have, following a protracted period of negotiation and investigation, decided to expel a few individual members from our association in North Belfast.”
The decision to oust the Shoukris came after UDA chiefs decided they were further harming their already tattered image.
Andre (aged 29) is currently in custody awaiting trial on blackmail, intimidation and money laundering charges.
His lavish lifestyle caused outrage among the UDA’s rank and file when it was disclosed that he had gambled £863,000 (€1.26m) at one bookmakers.
While he was in jail his brother Ihab (aged 32) was widely believed to have been the acting brigadier in north Belfast.
But earlier this month charges of UDA membership were dropped after a judge ruled there was not enough evidence to go to trial.
Although the terror organisation did not name either, a move against the Shoukris has been expected for months.
The UDA said it was issuing the statement to clarify and end the confusion about the situation in the north of the city.
It added that the membership of that unit have been instructed to begin a process of selection and election to replace those sacked.
“When this process is complete it is our expectation that the brigade in that area will again join with us in council so as to represent the best needs of the people of that area,” the statement said.
“We pay tribute to all our members and the north Belfast community for their patience and for the contributions that they have made to the debate about crime and its effects on our community.
“It is our duty as defenders of the Protestant people whom we serve, to create safer communities that are drug free, and where our people can live without fear of oppression.”