The Ulster Defence Association (UDA) was formed in 1971 as an umbrella group for a variety of loyalist groups.
At its peak it had tens of thousands of members and was the largest of the loyalist paramilitary organisations.
The UDA's stated aims were to protect unionist communities from attacks by republican paramilitaries but in reality it was little more than a criminal and sectarian gang.
It killed hundreds of people during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
It often claimed responsibility for sectarian murders by using the cover name, the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF).
Notorious UFF attacks included the shooting dead of five Catholics at a Belfast bookmakers shop in 1992 and the Greysteel massacre the following year, when gunmen entered a rural pub in County Londonderry and opened fire, leaving eight people dead.
It remained a legal organisation until it was banned on 10 August 1992 as the government could no longer ignore accusations that it was primarily engaged in terrorism.
Six weeks after the IRA declared its first ceasefire, the UDA was one of a number of paramilitary groups which took part in a loyalist ceasefire, announced by the Combined Loyalist Military Command on 13 October 1994.
In the summer of 2000, seven people died as the result of a bitter feud between the UDA and another loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) .
After months of pressure, government recognition for the UDA ceasefire was removed in October 2001 because of its involvement in feuding, racketeering and other criminal activity including drug dealing.
However, in November 2004, the then Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy said the government would again officially recognise the ceasefire amid UDA promises of engagement in the wider peace process.
'War is over'
In 2007, the Social Development Minister, Margaret Ritchie, announced that she was withdrawing £1.2m of public money from a UDA-linked conflict transformation scheme after the paramilitary group failed to meet a deadline she had set for it to begin the process of decommissioning.
She had given the ultimatum after repeated violence in Carrickfergus and Bangor which had been linked to the UDA.
However, the group said it would adhere to its own timetable for getting rid of its weapons.
Last year a High Court judge ruled Ms Ritchie was wrong to cut the funding as she had not followed proper procedure.
In November of 2007, the UDA issued a Remembrance Sunday statement which said that it believed "that the war is over".
"We are now in a new democratic dispensation that will lead to permanent political stability," it said.
The following day, the UDA announced that it had stood down the UFF, and said all UFF weapons were being put "beyond use", but stressed this did not mean they would be decommissioned.