Colin Horner, 35, who was shot dead in the parking lot of Sainsbury’s supermarket in Bangor on Saturday afternoon, May 27, was believed to be a former member of the UDA’s South East Antrim brigade.
Horner was shot dead in front of his three-year-old son in a scene which harked back to the worst times of The Troubles, when the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and their sworn enemies, the UDA and the Ulster Volunteer Force, regularly murdered people on the streets.
The Good Friday Agreement eventually led to the end of The Troubles and in 2010 the UDA followed the UVF and decommissioned their weapons.
But Dr. Stephen Hopkins, an expert on the Northern Ireland conflict at Leicester University, said the UDA had almost certainly kept some weapons and had probably bought other guns in recent years.
"The UDA remains a prescribed terrorist organization and you can still be charged just with being a member," Dr. Hopkins told Sputnik.
Horner is understood to have been a friend of Geordie Gilmore, another former UDA member who was gunned down in March.
Detective Chief Inspector Alan Dickson said: "Police are investigating a vicious and senseless killing, perpetrated in front of the victim's young son and while paramilitary involvement is certainly a definite line of enquiry, there is no motivation or justification for such a heinous act."
Police believe dashcam footage from cars may prove crucial.
"We continue to appeal to the public for their help and particularly to those who may have footage captured at the scene. We would also like to thank those individuals who have got in touch to date," Detective Chief Insp Dickson said.
But detectives would not comment on speculation in some Northern Ireland newspapers that Horner was killed after allegedly abusing UDA "godfathers."
Brian McLean, 35, and David McMaw, 28, have been charged with murdering Gilmore and face trial later this year.
In April McLean was remanded in custody after Mr. Justice Treacy said: "Given the circumstances surrounding the ongoing feud in the area it would not be appropriate to release this applicant on bail."
Horner, who was a close friend of Gilmore, reputedly fled Carrickfergus in fear of his life and moved to Bangor in neighboring County Down. He had reportedly badmouthed gangsters using the UDA name on social media.
But a gunman caught up with him there on Saturday afternoon.
Detective Superintendent Richard Campbell said of the shooting: "It was hugely barbaric act and something that will undoubtedly live with this young boy for the rest of his life."
The masked killer fled in a red Ford Mondeo car, which was later found burnt out.
"Even at the height of The Troubles in the 70s, 80s and 90s loyalist groups, primarily the UDA and UVF, were heavily involved in criminal activity, as were republicans. That included protection rackets and counterfeiting of goods and drugs have been part of parcel of these groups, particularly on the loyalist side, over the course of a couple of decades," Dr. Hopkins told Sputnik.
Dr. Hopkins said in the past many in the loyalist community had been happy to co-exist with the paramilitaries.
"There are more people now willing to say that they are just thugs and gangsters."
Oliver McMullan, a Sinn Fein Assembly Member from East Antrim, tweeted on Monday (May 30): "The UDA must disband and leave the stage the leadership of the DUP [Democratic Unionist Party] and the UUP [Ulster Unionist Party] must support this call."
Northern Ireland's politics are in a stalemate since elections in March and Sinn Fein's refusal to enter a coalition government with Arlene Foster's DUP.
In January, a dissident republican group calling itself the New IRA opened fire on a police station in north Belfast.
"One of the lessons of Northern Ireland is that if people are deeply concerned about an unstable political situation there is more likely to be an upsurge in paramilitary activity.
"Whether this latest shooting has got anything to do with the broader political situation I can't say but while there are those debates going on there is a jostling for position between these groups, thinking perhaps we are going to be called upon at some point," Dr Hopkins concluded.