Former Irish soldier ‘answered call to migrate to Syria’, court hears

Lisa Smith has pleaded not guilty to charges of membership in ISIS and providing it with funds

Former member of the Defence Forces Lisa Smith leaves the Special Criminal Court in Dublin where she is facing terror-related charges. PA

Former Irish soldier Lisa Smith, who denies membership in ISIS, “specifically assessed, analysed and ultimately answered the call to migrate” to Syria, a court has heard.

A prosecutor in the trial of the former Defence Forces soldier told the Special Criminal Court that it was not a case of a “simple or innocent act of travel” at an unfortunate point in time when Ms Smith travelled to ISIS-controlled territory.

The Co Louth woman, 39, has pleaded not guilty to charges of membership in ISIS and providing funds to benefit the group.

In his closing speech following a nine-week trial, prosecuting counsel Sean Gillane told the three-judge, non-jury court that the “element of buyer’s remorse” asserted was not a defence.

“Ms Smith is not being prosecuted for believing in Islam or following Islam, or for believing in a caliphate or a caliph,” Mr Gillane added.

“It’s important to resist any attempt to conflate the nomenclature, she is being prosecuted for joining a terrorist group.

“There are many straw men in the case that obscure the real issue.

“To ask the court to consider the merits, legitimacy of a caliphate is about as valid as asking the court to pronounce on the existence of heaven or hell.”

He added that “followers of a religion do not have a monopoly on sincerity of belief” and that “belief is neither here nor there for the purposes of what is to be assessed".

“The suggested sincerity with which she holds those beliefs, her sincerity or otherwise is besides the central point,” he said.

“The self-declared caliphate is not a country, it is not a nation state, it is a proto-state created by an illegal organisation, a gang, which exists solely through its members with Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi declared leader of that organisation.”

He said that Ms Smith’s decision to travel to ISIS territory in 2015 did not “involve some missing of a target on an otherwise lawful and wholesome journey”.

“It is not a case of a simple or innocent act of travel or near presence at a place in an unfortunate point in time,” Mr Gillane added, saying that “buyer’s remorse” is not a defence.

“It is the case on the evidence that Ms Smith specifically addressed, assessed, analysed and ultimately answered the call to migrate to this place controlled by ISIS, and this is the 'Hijrah' referred to in the context of the case.”

Michael O’Higgins, defence counsel for Ms Smith, told the court that the evidence shows that his client had fully accepted before she travelled to Syria that there was “no prospect” of her fighting.

He said she believed she would go to Syria, marry, have an extended family and would continue to “survive and prosper in Islam, which would not require her to go back to Ireland with her tail between her legs”.

Mr O’Higgins said that was not consistent with her becoming involved in any form of combat.

He said during her time in Syria, Ms Smith spent her time being a “dutiful wife” to her husband, a British citizen who the prosecution claims undertook “border control” for ISIS.

Mr O’Higgins said Ms Smith cleaned, washed, cooked and went food shopping.

“The only action which the prosecution has pointed to was that by buying into maintaining a husband, if he is an ISIS soldier, you are becoming a member of that organisation by virtue of that action and, to my surprise, through having babies as well,” he said.

He described as a “tall order” any claim that Ms Smith had a baby so the child could be raised to become an ISIS fighter.

“That is what you’re being asked to convict. The fact she had children is an indicator she is a member of a terrorist organisation,” he said.

Mr O’Higgins claimed that it is the prosecution’s case that, as Ms Smith was a “dutiful wife who cooked and cleaned the house”, she had membership in the terrorist organisation.

He said there is no evidence to show that she was assisting her husband to make him a “better soldier” and therefore helping the group.

If Ms Smith were a “lousy wife”, Mr O’Higgins said, that could possibly rebut the suggestion she was helping her husband and ISIS.

“I ask the court to consider, could you imagine a situation where a person in this jurisdiction who is charged in assisting an unlawful organisation, when the accused married ‘X’ and on a particular date subsequent, assisted the unlawful organisation by cooking, cleaning and maintaining a good house for her husband?

“Could you conceive of a charge laid against a woman in such circumstances?

“That is what you are being asked to do this case.”

The closing defence speech is set to continue on Wednesday.

Updated: March 29, 2022, 10:59 PM
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