| 10.2°C Belfast

Mark Townley: The serial con artist who became an unlikely jihadist

Mark Townley, a 31-year-old father-of-two, has a long history as a conman and is a self-confessed narcissist.

He was a pupil at prestigious Bangor Grammar but was apparently asked to leave, and was described by contemporaries as a "misfit".

Also known as Mark Hamill and Antonio Mendez, he is now using the name Ashraf Islam following a dramatic decision to become a Muslim when he fled Northern Ireland as the net closed in on his latest scam.

Townley (right), using the name Antonio Mendez, was first convicted of fraud in Liverpool when he advertised bodyguard courses with the guarantee of security work in Iraq.

Dozens of former squaddies paid their registration fee of £250 thinking they would get their Security Industry Authority licence and a job.

When they turned up at an isolated beach in Wales they found there was no course and no sign of Townley. When they tried to contact him his phone message said he was dead and head office in Spain was in charge. He returned to Northern Ireland and set up a company called National Task Force and proceeded to rip off youth, gymnastic and boxing clubs to the tune of thousands with the promise of mini buses and sports equipment.

As his cheques bounced and the pressure built up he fled to Dublin. Once there he set up shop selling topless photos, which quickly evolved into a "model agency".

He then gathered fees from would-be models with the promise of TV work.

The company had a turnover of £750,000 but soon the trail of debt started to build up and he fled north again, having been threatened by disgruntled creditors.

Immediately back to his old tricks, he set up office on the Dublin Road in Belfast offering courses in photography. Twenty-six people signed up with "Mark Hamill", paying £150 each, once again with the promise of a job. However, when the people turned up he was nowhere to be seen.

The police were involved and he fled back to Dublin as a Muslim.

Now posing as Ashraf Islam he ingratiated himself with a Muslim group protesting at the GPO in Dublin. He stayed with them for several months but told one of the members he was going to be shot by people in Belfast if he didn't pay them money.

One of the group handed over €7,000 for which he was given a post-dated cheque.

He then left stating: "I'm going to Tunisia to get a Muslim bride."

The cheque bounced.

With nowhere left to go, he handed himself into police in Belfast. He was remanded in custody and subsequently sentenced to six months in prison.

Once released he was living in Bangor town centre, just yards from one of the clubs he scammed when he returned from Liverpool.

The convicted conman was then at the centre of a blasphemy row over a plan to release a movie called Jesus Christ Pornstar on Christmas Day.

As the plans fell apart, he fled to England, where he was subsequently arrested and sentenced.

Belfast Telegraph