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turf war Ex-UDA Belfast bigwigs square up to run Ballymena crack cocaine trade

Former UDA chief Shoukri is ready to challenge exiled UDA coke dealer Coleman in a fight to be Ballymena's drugs boss

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Andre Shoukri is moving in on the Ballymena drug business

Andre Shoukri is moving in on the Ballymena drug business

Andre Shoukri is moving in on the Ballymena drug business

Two ex-UDA bosses from Belfast are set to go head-to-head in a crack cocaine war in Ballymena - with other big hitters wanting some action too.

We can reveal former UDA chief Andre Shoukri is ready to challenge exiled UDA coke dealer Dee Coleman in a fight to be Ballymena's drugs boss.

Crack cocaine is the drug driving the war, with users from all over Ulster desperate for their next hit of the life-sapping narcotic.

Shoukri and Coleman are just two of the major drugs dealing sharks circling to take over the empire built up by Noel Johnston who climbed out a fourth-floor window and fell to his death last weekend fearing he was about to be assassinated.

Both men are from Belfast but have realised just how lucrative the drugs market is in Ballymena - and they aren't the only big players from the capital to decide Ballymena is the place to make serious money.

Other old faces including former UVF boss Paul Gray continue to maintain a drugs hold on areas of the town, mostly in the Ballykeel area.

Gray worked alongside Noel Johnston to bring heroin into the town and five years ago he teamed up with former Mount Vernon UVF leader Darren Moore.

It's understood ex-Shankill UDA man Coleman had teamed up with Johnston, with some reports he was living in one of Johnston's properties for a while after he was forced to flee the Shankill after falling out with the UDA.

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Dee Coleman was previously quizzed by police in relation to the incident along with three others

Dee Coleman was previously quizzed by police in relation to the incident along with three others

Dee Coleman was previously quizzed by police in relation to the incident along with three others

Gray and Moore operate a crack cocaine house in Ballykeel and Coleman has helped the supply of drugs continue to flow while he's been selling the gear from his own flat.

Coleman fled west Belfast in January after falling out with the UDA over drugs and cash. He sought refuge in Ballymena and was given it by Noel Johnston.

Now Coleman is raking in the cash selling ordinary coke as well as crack despite facing charges for dealing - using the contacts he had when he ran Dee's Labs from his Shankill home.

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Meanwhile Shoukri is in business with convicted drug smuggler George Courtney who despite, being known as 'Ballymena George', is originally from the Shankill.

The bible-belt town in the grip of a drugs epidemic not seen since the town was flooded with heroin two decades ago - ironically with the help of Noel Johnston.

Now highly addictive crack cocaine, amphetamines as well as prescription drugs, cannabis and of course deadly heroin are at the centre of a drugs war in the Co Antrim town the authorities are losing.

Sources in the town told the Sunday World this week just how "grim" it is bringing up a family in some areas of the town with drugs being sold on industrial levels.

The death of Noel Johnston has shone a light on Ballymena as the grubby drugs underworld is exposed.

"Crack cocaine is taking over Ballymena," said a source. "People can't get enough of it and once someone has tried it, they don't want to take anything else.

"All the main people dealing it are based in Ballymena because the town has so many users. Addicts who wanted to get off heroin ended up on crack."

It's understood former drug lord Johnston became addicted to cocaine himself and was a known user of crack.

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Darren Moore

Darren Moore

Darren Moore

"Noel Johnston was high profile but he's not the first and won't be the last to die directly or indirectly linked to the drugs trade in this town," said a source.

"Police need to work harder to take on the drug bosses instead of the low-level street dealers. Look at all the major players running the illegal drugs trade in Ballymena - many of them are from Belfast. That's because Ballymena is at the centre of it all."

Last week police raided a number of properties - including a suspected drugs den where Johnston was present - as part of a wider operation by the organised crime unit into the supply of drugs.

The raids were sparked after cops stopped a car in Ballymena last Friday afternoon and arrested a man on drug offences.

That arrest led to follow-up searches in the town, alongside raids in Belfast and Larne, which led to another arrest and £300,000 of drugs being seized.

It's now widely believed Johnston took the drastic action of trying to scale down pipes from the fourth floor of the apartment building because he feared the heavy boots at the door were a rival gang who planned to murder him - rather than police officers on a raid.

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George Courtney

George Courtney

George Courtney

"Johnston wasn't scared of the police, he would never have taken such a risk if he thought it was just the cops," said a source.

"He was paranoid because of the drugs he was taking. He was in fear someone was coming to kill him."

But his demise has left a void in the drugs underworld and his former rivals now see an opportunity to move in.

"Gray and Moore were working with Noel but with him gone they are considerably weakened, for sure," said a well-place source.

"That's left it wide open for Shoukri, Courtney and (name of ex-squaddie removed for legal reasons) to expand their business.

"But Dee Coleman seems prepared to put it up to them and he'd been working with Johnston. He was in the area when Johnston died."

As reported here before, the ex-squaddie dealing with Shoukri and MMA fighter Courtney can't be named for legal reasons, but we can reveal until recently he was facing a serious charge until the alleged victim was bought off by Shoukri for £4,000.

Shoukri also paid to get a well-known member of the North Antrim UDA out of the terror group so he could deal for him instead.

"That's the power Shoukri's gang has now in Ballymena. They have the money and the muscle to make problems go away - now they have the money to actually buy dealers out of the UDA."

The Sunday World understands Shoukri's gang lost a stash of crack cocaine in a recent raid by PSNI but sources described the haul as "a drop in the ocean".

He can't be named currently as he's due to face a Crown Court trial next year on serious charges having only come out of prison last year.

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Paul Gray

Paul Gray

Paul Gray

Other gangs are also jockeying for position with one convicted gangster taking control of around 30 dealers in the towns and villages around Ballymena.

"There are drug gangs all over Ballymena - the Romanians have got a gang running along with Paul Gray's mob," said a source.

"It's a feeding frenzy. Along with Gray they've helped push out a west Belfast family who used to control the drugs in Ballykeel."

Gray was once one of the UVF's blue-eyed boys - it was his unit that supplied the shotguns used in the murder of Bobby Moffett on the Shankill in May 2010.

Now Gray, who for years was under threat from his former UVF pals, has regained his strength and built a lucrative drugs empire.

Meanwhile we can reveal drug gangs are washing their dirty drug money by buying cash-rich businesses including tanning salons, sandwich shops and have even got involved in dog breeding.

"Noel Johnston was targeted by the Assets Recovery and knew he had to clean his money," said our source.

"The other main players have realised that too and that's why they've got into businesses where lots of cash changes hands."

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