Belfast Telegraph

Unlikely terrorist Christine Connor plotted 'war' on PSNI and posed as a model to entice two male accomplices

... but hugely complex probe aided by FBI finally brought bomber to justice

By Aaron Tinney

It reads like something from the pages of a Hollywood script, but the elaborate plot that Christine Connor hatched in a bid to murder police was both chilling and highly dangerous.

The 31-year-old once claimed to be "at war" with the PSNI, and was determined to kill.

She used fake 999 calls in a bid to lure officers to their deaths, and posed as a Swedish supermodel to recruit vulnerable men into helping with her deadly mission.

Today, the Belfast Telegraph details for the first time the incredible story of Connor's plot and how she was finally brought to justice.

An investigation by this newspapers reveals how she:

- Left a litany of DNA evidence linking her to the plot to kill police.

- Stashed the laptop and phones she used to communicate with conspirators in England and America in her bedroom mattress.

- Sent video of a 'dry run' of her grenade-style bomb attack on police in which she remarked: "I wish I had something to throw."

- Used the internet to research bomb-making techniques

- Targeted police with two pipe bombs so powerful the shrapnel from one sliced a wooden fence post in half.

Detective Superintendent Richard Campbell described it as a "hugely complex and unusual" investigation.

The probe spanned four years and involved more than 100 officials in the FBI, two English forces and the PSNI.

Connor, from north Belfast, made headlines in May when it emerged she had posed online as Swedish model Sanee Andersson to entice an Englishman into an online relationship - and her plot to kill police officers.

Ms Andersson, who had no knowledge her photographs were being used, is engaged to Jacob Josefson, who plays for the New Jersey Devils in the US National Hockey League.

Using her false identity, Connor enlisted the help of Stuart Downes (31) from Meole Brace in Shrewsbury, and Zachary Gevelinger from the United States. Both have since taken their own lives.

Police said that after persuading Mr Downes to source the explosives and parts for two pipe bombs and post them to her by Royal Mail, she is believed to have put the finishing touches to the devices.

On May 28, 2013, Connor lobbed two "grenade-like" improvised explosive devices at police in the Ballysillan area of north Belfast.

Shrapnel from the devices travelled for 35 metres, warped double-glazed windows and cut a nearby fence post in half.

Her attack came after a trial run on May 16 when a device was thrown but did not detonate.

A claim of responsibility for the May 28 bombing, made from a public telephone box in Shrewsbury, implicated Downes.

In the 999 call, made by Connor on May 28, she is heard sobbing to a female operator: "My boyfriend's just come home and he's smashing up the house and I don't know what to do."

The call was made around 1.44am. By 2.22am Connor had walked up an alley and hurled her two grenade-style pipe bombs packed with an explosive mixture and lit with fuses at two officers who thought they were coming to the aid of a battered woman.

Analysing the case, Det Supt Campbell said: "Christine Connor is undoubtedly a very dangerous woman who exploited others in order to further her own twisted ideology.

"Her deceitfulness knew no bounds."

At the time there had been a series of incidents in north Belfast that involved police being lured to ambushes by false 999 calls.

Connor already was well-practised at making false 999 calls.

On May 16, 2013, she made another hoax call in which she talked about finding a pipe bomb-style device.

In the call, Connor - who used the name 'Michelle McCann' in the conversation - told the operator in a calm voice: "I found a tube with wires sticking out of it in my neighbour's garden. It looks like a wire thing sticking out of it. It's just across from the phone boxes on Ligoniel Road, just across from the post office."

Turning to her online recruitment of Mr Downes and Mr Gevelinger, the detective added: "Again, she was very cunning in the conduct of her activities and she duped a number of men through a number of fake photographs on social media to becoming involved with her in her terrorist aspirations."

He said Connor was a 'lone wolf' who is not thought to have connections to any breakaway republican groups. Mr Downes was caught in Connor's lies under her guise of Miss Andersson, the Swedish model.

Det Supt Campbell said: "Miss Andersson was spoken to and had no knowledge of Connor's activities."

Thinking he was communicating with Sanee, Mr Downes sourced parts for the bombs Connor lobbed at police from "several outlets" in England, and tested out the explosive mix used in the devices.

Footage sent from Connor's phone to Mr Downes' mobile shows her strolling along a Belfast street, talking in a fake posh accent and telling Downes she is desperate to bomb police.

She says about her terror plans: "Then when they come I'm literally f****** it at them and running, which gives me then a straight road for running. But then also what I was thinking of putting that other stuff out on the road around about here and when I hear the sirens coming I just walk out, stick the two things down, light them and run." The detective said Mr Downes was known to police locally, but for very low-level crime and had no previous connections to Northern Ireland or terrorism when he was tricked by Connor.

She built up a relationship with Mr Downes over a "period of weeks and months".

But the first time Mr Downes met Connor was when he was brought in for questioning with her at a police station in Belfast.

Instead of the Swedish blonde with whom he thought he had been plotting murder was the brunette Connor.

Mr Downes was charged with aiding and abetting in the plot to kill police officers.

While on bail he received a bullet in the post, which Det Supt Campbell says was intended to silence him.

He disappeared from his home on June 18 last year while out on bail.

His body was found in a nearby wooded area almost a week later on June 24 last year after he took his own life. An inquest concluded the fear of a lengthy prison sentence had impacted on his mental health.

His life was not the only one destroyed after being drawn in by Connor.

Mr Gevelinger, a vulnerable American student, spent nine days in custody after befriending Connor. The 28-year-old was arrested by police after he travelled to Ireland in June 2013 to visit her in Hydebank women's prison, where she was on remand accused of the pipe bomb attacks.

Gevelinger had no previous links to Irish republicanism but was a contributor to Communist Party publications and a member of the American Socialist Party.

On leaving Hydebank he was arrested by police in the prison car park and taken for questioning.

While held for nine days under anti-terror legislation, the FBI searched his house and confirmed he had links with Connor.

Hours after being released he was admitted to hospital suffering a panic attack and flew back to the US the next day.

He took his own life after going missing from his home in Dodgeville, Wisconsin, on May 3 this year - the same day Connor pleaded guilty to the attempted murder of police officers.

Det Supt Campbell revealed Gevelinger had sent Connor "hundreds of pounds" worth of cheques to aid her cause.

Speaking about the evidence trail that nailed Connor, Det Supt Campbell said she left a string of items near the site of her Crumlin Road bomb ambush.

He said: "Evidence included the mobile phone used to make the fake 999 call. It was found in the garden of a house adjoining the alleyway where the device was thrown.

"In this alleyway she also left two wool gloves from which police were able to identify her DNA.

"There was also a footprint in dog excrement in the laneway which was linked to a pair of boots belonging to Connor, which were found in her wardrobe. A hoodie sweatshirt was found in a skip near the scene and this also contained DNA from Christine Connor."

Connor is thought to have carried her two pipe bombs in a blue supermarket Bag For Life, remains of which were also found.

Showing CCTV of Connor's blast next to a police Land Rover in the early hours of May 28, DS Campbell said: "It's sheer good fortune these officers were not killed or seriously injured."

Turning to photographs of the damage caused by Connor's bomb, Det Supt Campbell added: "One of the pieces of shrapnel cut a fence post in half. These devices were very much designed to kill."

Connor had been arrested and convicted in 2012 when she along with others had attacked the Alliance Party headquarters.

Det Supt Campbell called it a "very minor incident" and said: "She certainly wasn't someone who the police suspected would have been actively involved in terrorism." After Connor was arrested on suspicion of bombing police, searches of her home saw officers find mobile phones, SIM cards and laptops hidden inside a mattress in her bedroom.

Despite the long list of evidence that linked Connor to the bomb ambush, Det Supt Campbell does not want her to be seen as an amateur.

"This was not someone who did not know what she was doing - these devices had the potential to kill police officers and they exploded in a very dangerous way," he added.

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