By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — The UDA’s former commander in West Belfast, Johnny "Mad Dog" Adair, wore a bulletproof jacket as he was freed from the Maze prison Tuesday morning under the conditions the Good Friday peace agreement’s early-release program.
A Shankill Road man Adair, who’s 34, had served five years of a 16-year term for directing terrorism.
He was greeted at the Maze exit by about 20 supporters from the Shankill Road, wearing scarves around their faces to hide their identities, who had planted two UDA flags on the exit turnstile.
As Adair, heavily tattooed, emerged from jail, they ordered a bank of camera crews and photographers to keep back. He left in a cavalcade of cars without saying a word.
Adair, wearing the Shankill Road loyalist uniform of baseball cap turned backward, jeans and running shoes, stared impassively at reporters and photographers with his arms crossed.
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The trial judge who had convicted him called him a man motivated by naked sectarian hatred. The court was told of how the RUC tape recorded him as he boasted to them of the number of Catholics he had killed.
Ironically, however, Adair is probably more feared in his own community than among nationalists. Reports from the Shankill Road, where others have replaced him in the pecking order, claim he has been ordered to live with his mother in South Belfast.
The IRA made numerous attempts to kill Adair before he was sent to jail. On one occasion, the gun being used jammed. Adair then built ramps and barricades outside his house to deter more attacks.
He became the only man ever convicted of directing terrorism after RUC officers told the court how he openly boasted of his involvement in murder.
With short-cropped, died-blonde hair, earrings and tattoos, he once told a woman reporter interviewing him that she was the first Catholic he’d ever had in his car alive.
He claimed he had killed more than 20 Catholics and that he had cruised the Falls Road in a car with a Celtic football club emblem hanging from the rear view mirror as a disguise.
He was shot in the head while out on parole at a UB40 gig in Belfast in May this year. He claimed republicans were responsible, but the police were not convinced and are keeping an open mind on who carried out the attack.