Man jailed for life for attempted murder of US woman stationed at GCHQ | GCHQ

A former UK intelligence worker has been jailed for life for a terrorist attack on an American woman who worked for the US government’s National Security Agency and was stationed at GCHQ in Gloucestershire.

Joshua Bowles punched and stabbed the woman at a leisure centre 3 miles from the UK intelligence, security and cyber-agency’s Cheltenham base after researching the woman and carrying out surveillance of her.

The judge at the Old Bailey, Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb, ruled Bowles had been driven by terrorism, describing his crime as a “politically motivated attack” designed to disrupt British and US intelligence work.

She said if he would serve at least 13 years in prison before being considered for parole and if he had succeeded in killing his target, referred to in court only by code number 99230, he would have been given a full life term.

The judge highlighted that Bowles was familiar with “incel” – involuntary celibate – culture and in the days and weeks leading up to the attack had researched serial killers, the “Unabomber” Theodore Kaczynski, white supremacy and attacks on women.

She said: “Your feelings of anger and resentment against GCHQ and women evolved sufficiently to lead you to mount an assault through which you intended, however unrealistically, to disrupt the work of the UK intelligence community with an important ally, the USA, and you hoped to achieve this by killing one of the American citizens you knew was engaged in that work.”

In a police interview, Bowles told police: “The target was selected for her employment at the NSA. American intelligence represents the largest contributor within the intelligence community so it made sense as the symbolic target. I consider GCHQ just as guilty.”

After the attack, Bowles told a member of the public he could no longer “handle the murky waters of ethics and whether they are doing the right thing and the power that the American NSA have”. He added: “It’s a good job I didn’t have a gun, isn’t it?” and also said: “I make a pretty shit terrorist, don’t I?”

Bowles, 29, from Cheltenham, admitted attempted murder and assault.

He had been a software coding developer at GCHQ until late in 2022. From the start of 2023, he carried out reconnaissance and research on the victim and other workers at GCHQ. He researched her personal life and discovered she played netball at a leisure centre in Tommy Taylors Lane in Cheltenham.

Bowles went there with two knives in a rucksack and waited in a car park. He attacked the woman at about 9.15pm as she left the leisure centre. He was fended off by the victim and her friend. A passerby, Alex Fuentes, stepped in and was punched.

The victim escaped back into the leisure centre. Bowles followed her inside and used the second knife to attack her. She suffered multiple stab injuries and is still off work.

In a victim impact statement, the woman said she was devastated when she learned her attacker had worked at GCHQ. She said: “This attack has had a profound effect on me and it’s utterly and completely changed my life.”

Tim Forte, defending, disputed that the attack was terrorism-related and said Bowles had depression and a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.

Forte said Bowles had felt rejected when he asked out 99230’s predecessor and “transferred” the infatuation to his victim. He was also angry when he was not been given a promotion at work, the barrister said. He added: “There is nothing in this case demonstrating a terrorist cell, it’s an incel.”

Bowles admitted attempted murder and assaulting Fuentes.


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