Ex-GCHQ software dev jailed for stabbing NSA staffer

Terrorist ideology suspected to be motivation

A former software developer for Britain's cyberspy agency is facing years in the slammer after being sentenced for stabbing a National Security Agency (NSA) official multiple times.

Joshua Bowles, a former Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) programmer, attacked the individual in March following at least a month of planning, police said.

Bowles waited for the NSA staffer, a woman who cannot be named for legal reasons, in his car outside a leisure center in Cheltenham. He then attacked her as she emerged with a colleague after a netball game.

Cheltenham, a town in the county of Gloucestershire, is the location of GCHQ's headquarters and where the NSA is known to station some of its employees, including the victim.

He will serve a minimum sentence of 13 years after pleading guilty to one count of attempted murder and one count of assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

Bowles visited the leisure center four weeks prior to the attack after researching the victim extensively to plan out the attack.

After leaving the sports complex, Bowles reportedly caught the woman's attention by saying "excuse me" from behind and when she turned around, he punched her repeatedly.

The victim's colleague tried to stop the attack but was unsuccessful, as was bystander Alex Fuentes who attempted an intervention on his way to play football but was also punched by Bowles. 

Fuentes' efforts afforded the two women time to run back to the gym entrance, but Bowles, 29, followed them inside and began the knife attack, inflicting multiple wounds to the victim in the abdomen, chest, and thigh.

Joshua Bowles headshot, supplied by Counter Terrorism Policing South East

Joshua Bowles mugshot ... Source: Counter Terrorism Policing South East

In the immediate aftermath of the March 9 attack, which occurred after Bowles left his position at GCHQ, he was said to have dropped the knife and calmly waited for the police to arrive.

Justice Cheema-Grubb DBE ruled at an Old Bailey sentencing hearing that Bowles was motivated by a terrorist ideology.

According to another bystander, Steve Bunn, who helped stop the attack while inside the leisure center, Bowles said to him that it was a good thing he didn't have a gun, before likening himself to a terrorist.

Bowles also reportedly told Bunn that he would understand the motivations behind his attack if he knew about the work being carried out by GCHQ and the NSA.

Justice Cheema-Grubb DBE said the attack was "politically motivated" and also fueled by Bowles' "anger and resentment towards women."

The court heard Bowles' search history included research into white supremacy, attacks on women, and Theodore Kaczynski – otherwise known as the Unabomber.

"By the time you launched your attack, your feelings of anger and resentment against GCHQ and women had evolved sufficiently to lead you to mount a lethal assault through which you wanted, however unrealistically, to disrupt the work of the UK intelligence community with an important ally, the United States of America, and you hoped to achieve this by killing one of the American citizens you knew was engaged in that work," Cheema-Grubb said.

After recovering from the attack in hospital, the victim said the incident "completely changed my life."

"I now know he used to work where I work and I'm devastated by this," she said. "Following the attack, I went from being in the best shape I had ever been to being the weakest I have ever been."

Detective chief superintendent Olly Wright, head of Counter Terrorism Policing South East, said that in police interviews Bowles admitted to specifically selecting his target based on her employer and that this was the core motive behind the attack.

"Despite the valiant efforts of a member of the public, who intervened to help during the first part of the attack, Bowles was undeterred," he said. "He went on to stab the victim a number of times, which must have been a terrifying ordeal.

"I do not underestimate the potential long-lasting effects this incident will have on the victim and her family and friends. I hope now that the court proceedings have concluded, she can begin to rebuild her life after this horrendous ordeal."

A spokesperson at GCHQ told The Register:

"This was a shocking, unprovoked attack and its isolated nature does not make it any less upsetting. Our thoughts are with the victims and their families. GCHQ has been working closely with police during their investigation and we welcome justice being done."

The NSA also sent us a statement:

"The NSA remains committed to the safety and wellbeing of its employees. We will continue to work closely with the victim and their family to provide necessary support." ®

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