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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Irish Rebel Marked For Death

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- The Irish Republican Army tried several times to kill him, and failed. British anti-terrorist soldiers once had him in their sights. They lost him too.


Now, Billy Wright's own commanders in an outlawed pro-British Protestant paramilitary group have told him to leave the province -- or be shut up for good.


Wright, who looks and talks as tough as his reputation, says he won't go.


"They know where I am," Wright said from his steel-door safehouse in mostly Protestant Portadown, southwest of Belfast. "If I have to die for my principles, I'll die. But I won't die easy."


The man dubbed "King Rat" for allegedly killing Catholics during a tit-for-tat campaign of intimidation against Irish Republican Army supporters has become a danger to his former leaders, now trying to seek peace.


Wright, 36, has spent more than a decade with the Ulster Volunteer Force, or UVF. It and other outlawed "loyalist" groups have slain 900 people, mostly Catholics, in hopes of maintaining Northern Ireland's link with Britain.


While his group has observed a 22-month cease-fire, Wright seeks a return to hostilities.


The UVF and the larger loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Defense Association, on Wednesday ordered Wright and a colleague, Alec Kerr, to leave the British-ruled province within 72 hours or face "summary justice." Kerr was arrested last week and is in police custody.


The threat didn't impress the icy King Rat, who has a stubble beard, close-cropped hair and tattoos of a dragon and a leggy lady decorating his forearms.


Raised in a predominantly Catholic part of Northern Ireland, Wright speaks about seeing Protestant friends and neighbors killed in IRA attacks. An IRA massacre of 10 Protestant workmen in 1976 changed him forever, he says.


"That lit the flame in me," he said. "I knew then I'd never die a lamb."


The UVF has a quarter-century history of slaying its own in feuds. Wright, who said he escaped a 1982 ambush by the British army's anti-terrorist unit, expects to survive this threat, too.


"I've heard a lot of talk from them, but hopefully it's just talk," he said.