'Incel' GCHQ worker jailed for life after attempted murder of US spy

Knife-wielding ‘incel’ ex-GCHQ worker who tried to murder a female US spy in ‘politically-motivated’ attack outside Cheltenham leisure centre just three miles from intelligence agency’s base is jailed for life

A former GCHQ worker who became aligned with the ‘incel’ movement of men who believe they are unable to attract women has been jailed for life after he tried to murder a US spy in a ‘politically motivated’ attack.

Armed with two knives, Joshua Bowles, 29, attempted to kill the US government employee, identified in documents only as code number 99230, outside a leisure centre three miles from the intelligence service’s base in Cheltenham in March.

He punched and repeatedly stabbed the woman and assaulted a second person who tried to intervene. Before the attack he had searched online for Ted Kaczynski – the infamous ‘Unabomber’ terrorist – and misogynistic attacks on women.

The Old Bailey heard at an earlier sentencing hearing that Bowles had become an ‘incel’ – short for ‘involuntary celibate’, referring to online communities of men who consider themselves incapable of sexually attracting women.

After the attack, the ex-computer software coding developer said he had targeted her because he could not handle the ‘murky waters of ethics’ and ‘the power that the American NSA have and the things they do’, adding: ‘I make a pretty s*** terrorist, don’t I?’ 

Joshua Bowles, 29, who has been jailed for life after attempting to murder an American intelligence agent at a leisure centre in Cheltenham

Police outside the leisure centre in March this year after Bowles punched and stabbed the woman multiple times before assaulting a man who tried to intervene

READ MORE: Former GCHQ worker called himself a ‘terrorist’ after knife attack on a US spy, court is told 

The court heard that the 29-year-old defendant had planned the attack and searched the internet for topics including American Unabomber terrorist Ted Kaczynski, attacks on women, and white supremacy.

He also googled ‘What is stalking’ as he checked up on the victim’s social media and the site for her netball group.

On the day of the attack he searched for murderers and serial killers, Russian massacres of German civilians, an Iraqi immigrant stabbing someone and misogynistic attacks on women.

Bowles, of Welwyn Mews, Cheltenham, pleaded guilty to the attempted murder of the woman and assaulting a man who attempted to intervene, causing him actual bodily harm.

On Monday, Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb found it was a ‘politically motivated attack’ driven by ‘anger and resentment’ towards GCHQ and women. The senior judge sentenced Bowles at the Old Bailey to life with a minimum term of 13 years.

She told Bowles: ‘This was not a random act of serious violence – you were not a mugger attacking a stranger. Your attempt to kill her has completely changed her life. She spent weeks in severe pain unable to do anything for herself.

‘She is plainly a high-achieving strong and capable woman who was able to make her home in a new continent in service of her home country. It is striking that even months after the event you could not or would not explain fully why you attacked her.

‘I accept the psychiatric evidence that by the start of the year you were moderately or severely depressed and felt disempowered. I accept your motivation was mixed and may have resulted partly from sadness at your position in life.

‘It is not unusual for those who commit offences of terrorism to have had negative life experiences to suffer mental health or to exhibit mixed motives.

‘The court cannot avoid the conclusion that a significant part of your motivation was that your action would have an adverse impact on the intelligence communities of the United Kingdom and the United States.

‘Your anger against GCHQ and women had persuaded you to launch an attack through which you intended however unrealistically to disrupt intelligence between the UK and the US by killing one of the Americans working in the UK.

‘This was a politically motivated attack.’

Prosecutor Duncan Penny KC said it was a ‘premeditated, targeted and vicious attack on an unarmed woman’.

He told the court: ‘That woman was a United States government employee working in the United Kingdom. She was attacked by a man who was carrying two knives and she was stabbed three times outside, and in the reception area of, a leisure centre in Cheltenham.

‘Her selection as the target for this attack was entirely and solely associated with her role as a US government employee in the National Security Agency (NSA) of the United States.’

The woman had been playing netball at the leisure centre in Cheltenham on the evening of March 9 and was followed as she left with a friend, who was a fellow US national identified as 25869.

When she heard someone say ‘Excuse me’, she turned round and was punched repeatedly in the face. She fought back, kicking and screaming, as her friend hit him with her bag and told him to leave her alone.

Alex Fuentes, who was on his way to play football, was punched in the face when he asked Bowles ‘What’s going on?’

His intervention allowed the two women to run back into the centre’s reception area, pursued by the defendant seconds later.

Mr Penny said: ‘The CCTV footage shows the defendant holding a knife and lunging towards 99230, who was trying to back away. She described that “it felt like he hated me … his focus was me”.’

The Leisure at Cheltenham centre where Bowles attacked the American intelligence agent

Steve Bunn, another visitor to the leisure centre, saw blood flowing from the woman’s mouth and down her chin and throat.

Describing the resumed attack, he said: ‘He was on her, immediately, grabbed her and was moving around in such a way it was obvious he was trying to hit her or hurt her, he was striking at her. It looked like he was throwing punches or attacking her with punches.’

He grabbed the defendant, enabling the two women to escape again before Bowles dropped a knife on the floor.

Mr Bunn said the defendant’s ‘frenzied aggression just dissipated’ once the two women had left. Asked if he was OK, Bowles said: ‘No, I’ve just tried to kill her.’

He said Bowles was ‘making out that he was disgusted by the manner in which (GCHQ) gather information and use things against people’ and was ‘appalled by the agency (99230) works for’.

The defendant said 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 and the things they do’.

He added: ‘It’s a good job I didn’t have a gun, isn’t it? … I make a pretty s*** terrorist, don’t I?’

The court was told the victim’s injuries included cuts to her abdomen, chest and thigh.

In a victim impact statement, she said that using the defendant’s name made her ‘feel sick’ and brought back ‘awful memories’.

She said: ‘I now know he used to work where I work and I’m devastated by this. This attack has had a profound effect on me and it’s utterly and completely changed my life.

‘Following the attack, I went from being in the best shape I had ever been to being the weakest I have ever been.’

In a statement, the defendant, who has Asperger’s syndrome, told police he had targeted her because she was employed by the National Security Agency.

He said: ‘Due to the size and resourcing, American intelligence represents the largest contributor within the intelligence community so made sense as the symbolic target. I consider GCHQ just as guilty.’

Tim Forte, defending, expressed Bowles’ ‘profound regret, remorse and shame at what he has done’.

Mr Forte rejected any terrorist connection, saying the depressed defendant’s twin motivations were being ‘ghosted’ by another former American co-worker who was the ‘object of his affections’, and a desire to hurt his ex-employer.

He had told a previous sentencing hearing that Bowles had become an ‘incel’.

He said: ‘There is nothing in this case demonstrating a terrorist cell, it’s an incel.’

He suggested Bowles had been embarrassed at his real motivation and pretended the attack was part of a grander scheme.

Detective Chief Superintendent Olly Wright, head of Counter Terrorism Policing South East (CTPSE), said: ‘The attack that Bowles carried out was planned and incredibly violent involving two innocent victims.

‘Now that the court proceedings have concluded, I really do hope that the victim can begin to rebuild.’

‘I don’t underestimate the impact this incident would have had on the victim and her family and friends and on the brave witnesses who intervened.

‘I actually believe they saved her life. I would really like to thank them for it. They should be very proud of themselves.’

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