Lone wolf republican used fake profile to entrap man in bid to murder police

Lone wolf republican used fake profile to entrap man in bid to murder police

A lone wolf dissident republican posed as the model fiancee of a Swedish ice hockey star to entrap a man into taking part in her bid to murder police officers.

The man Christine Connor lured into her criminal web using a fake online profile - Stuart Downes from Shrewsbury - later took his own life.

Police branded Connor "deceitful and extremely dangerous" after she pleaded guilty to a series of terror offences on Wednesday, including a count of attempted murder linked to a bomb attack on police in Belfast.

She was not aligned to any known dissident republican grouping, instead calling her own one-member organisation United Struggle.

Officers confirmed the 31-year-old from north Belfast used a fictitious name and profile picture that "bore no resemblance to her" to entice her suspected accomplice.

The Press Association understands she used online pictures of Swedish model, fashion designer and blogger Sanne Andersson without her knowledge or consent.

Ms Andersson is engaged to Jacob Josefson, who plays for the New Jersey Devils in the National Hockey League in the US.

Downes, 31, had also been charged with a series of offences linked to the blast bomb attack on police officers in Belfast in 2013, but he died last year. A coroner ruled he took his own life.

The attack unfolded in May 2013 when Connor hurled two pipe bombs at a police car in the Crumlin Road area of north Belfast.

The officers had been responding to a hoax 999 call from an apparently vulnerable woman when they were targeted. The devices exploded but the officers escaped injury.

Two weeks earlier, Connor attempted a similar attack but the improvised explosive did not detonate.

Connor, whose address cannot be printed for legal reasons, pleaded guilty to six charges in total during a brief hearing at Belfast Crown Court on Wednesday.

As well as the attempted murder of a policeman, she admitted two counts of possessing explosives with intent to endanger life, two counts of causing an explosion likely to endanger life and one charge of preparing for terrorist acts.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and West Mercia Police worked together in what was a four-year investigation.

Detective Superintendent Kevin Geddes, of the PSNI's Serious Crime Branch, said Connor used a "web of deceit" to enlist Downes.

"Christine Connor's deceitfulness knew no bounds and involved using a fictitious name and a profile picture that bore no resemblance to her when communicating online with Stuart Downes to plan this sickening attack on officers who were simply carrying out their core job of protecting their community.

"She had two attempts at murdering police officers on two separate dates and both involved her making hoax 999 calls to lure them to where she was hiding."

The detective said the second attack resulted in shrapnel flying 35 metres and lodging in nearby homes.

Mr Geddes said a claim of responsibility phoned in from a public call box in the Shrewsbury area formed a major part of the investigation.

"This resulted in the identification of Stuart Downes as a suspect," he explained.

He added: "Today's outcome is the result of excellent joint working between the PSNI and West Mercia Police alongside the West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit.

"A vast amount of evidence has been obtained from the examination of mobile telephones, computers, media devices and online networking sites which evidenced the conspiracy between Christine Connor and Stuart Downes.

"Working together, we have disrupted the activity of a dangerous individual who will now face the rigours of the criminal justice system."

Detective Inspector Martyn Barnes, of West Mercia Police, said: "The outcome at court today is the culmination of a significant and detailed investigation involving three UK police services.

"It is a positive example of how we do not work in silo and we hope this case reassures the communities we serve that we can and do work together to ensure justice is done."

Connor will be sentenced on June 20.

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