Dissident killer Christie Robinson was hell-bent on killing a prison officer and underwent weapons training to prepare himself for murder.
Images obtained by Sunday Life show the New IRA member on a rifle range test-firing a semi-automatic shotgun. He later boasted to dissident pals that this was practice for killing a "screw".
Just months after the sinister photographs were taken, Robinson helped murder prison officer Adrian Ismay (52) in an under-car booby-trap bomb blast.
"Christie was obsessed with killing a prison officer, he talked about it all the time," a republican source explained.
"The New IRA took advantage of this, and then hung him out to dry after the Ismay murder."
Robinson, from west Belfast, was jailed for life on Friday for the cowardly Judas-style 2016 attack on his fellow St John Ambulance Service volunteer.
It was through his work for the emergency service that he learned of Mr Ismay's day job as a tutor at the Prison Training College in Millisle. This was enough to single him out for murder by the New IRA.
This newspaper can reveal that Robinson is believed to have used this tactic in the past to select targets for the Provisional IRA and dissident republican organisations. Openly gay, he is known to have attempted to identify off-duty police officers who visited gay bars in the centre of Belfast.
There are also suspicions the 49-year-old was involved in pointing out RUC officer Darren Bradshaw who was shot dead by the INLA in 1997 leaving the Parliament nightclub. At the time it was one of the few gay pubs in Belfast.
Republican sources describe Robinson as "violent and volatile", saying he was too erratic even for the New IRA.
This is a fact touched on by trial judge Mr Justice McAlinden who referred to his "history of mental health problems" and "potential for impulsive outbursts and loss of emotional control".
Another example of this was how Robinson was barred from the 2016 launch of the New IRA's political wing Saoradh in a Newry hotel.
Around the same period he was staging protests outside the Feile festival office in west Belfast and throwing paint around Sinn Fein-linked murals, while singing in a church folk group and recording suicide awareness songs.
Further signs of Robinson's duplicity occurred in January 2010 when he was paid £5,000 to marry Chinese national Liyue Jiang in a sham marriage at Belfast City Hall.
This was despite him being gay and his bride, who worked in a north Belfast takeaway, not speaking English and being half his age. The ceremony was investigated by the Home Office in 2016, but the case ended up being dropped because Jiang could not be located.
The fake wedding probe took place while Robinson was on bail charged with murdering Adrian Ismay, who died 11 days after the explosion outside his home on Hillsborough Drive in east Belfast.
Although he was centrally involved in planning the attack, it was another New IRA member who placed the bomb under the prison officer's vehicle.
Robinson's car was captured on CCTV collecting the killer from Dock Street in the Sailortown area of Belfast at 8.51pm, and dropping him off again at 2.48am.
Detectives know the identity of the bomber, who is a prominent dissident with a robbery conviction, but have been unable to bring charges against him due to a lack of evidence.
"Christie won't admit it, but he knows that he was used by the New IRA," a republican source added. "He was the one taking all the risks in the Ismay job.
"He collected and dropped off the bomber in his own car, which was madness given Belfast is covered in CCTV cameras.
"He then arranged for his sister-in-law's car to collect the bomber after he had put the device under Ismay's van in east Belfast. Again, this was all caught on camera."
While CCTV footage proved crucial in convicting Robinson, so too, did his DNA which was found on a poppy appeal sticker in a wheelie bin at his brother Peter Robinson's home.
The sticker had been in the window of his sister-in-law's Citroen C3 car that was used by the bomber to escape. There is no suggestion that she had any knowledge of or involvement in the plot. Prosecution lawyers argued that the sticker was a cynical ploy to ensure it would not look out of place travelling to Mr Ismay's home in east Belfast.
In the days after the bomb attack the prison officer was interviewed by police in the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast.
Mr Ismay was asked about Christie Robinson, telling detectives: "The last time I saw him was more than two years ago when I worked for St John Ambulance based at Saintfield Road in Belfast.
"We both worked there as volunteers. I solely knew him on a work basis and never socialised with him. He had never been to my home and I had never been to his.
"During the three to four years that I worked along with him we never had cross words, we never had any run-ins, we actually got on well," added Mr Ismay.
"We never discussed any topics to do with religion or politics. I have been in the Prison Service for approximately 29 years, so I am pretty certain he would have been aware of my career."
Mr Ismay joined the Prison Service in 1987 and worked in the Maze prison before being transferred to Hydebank young offenders' centre in August 1994.
He was promoted in July 2014 and was moved to the Prison Service Training College in Millisle. The father-of-three never served in Maghaberry prison, where dissident republican inmates are held in the Roe House unit.
After Mr Ismay's murder, his daughter Tori said: "I have lost, heaven has gained, the most wonderful daddy this world contained."
Originally from the Divis district of west Belfast, Christie Robinson continues to deny involvement in the Ismay murder.
The former hotel bouncer previously said: "I will reiterate again that I had no knowledge of anything that has, allegedly, led to his death."
Robinson was accompanied to court on Friday by leading Derry New IRA member Christy O'Kane, who served a 10-year prison sentence for a Provo bombing campaign in the north-west.
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