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25 Sept 2022

Lisa Smith fell in with a "pure and strict" sect of Islam in a mosque in Dundalk, defence tells trial

Lisa Smith fell in with a "pure and strict" sect of Islam in a mosque in Dundalk,  defence tells trial

Lisa Smith, a former soldier who denies membership of Isis, chose to travel to an area controlled by the "demonic" terrorist organisation having rejected peace and integration to embrace what is militant and violent, a barrister has told her trial.

Sean Gillane SC, for the Director of Public Prosecutions, has delivered his closing speech in the trial, telling the three-judge, non-jury court that Ms Smith did not embark on a "lawful and wholesome journey" to answer a religious calling but, having addressed and analyzed the call by terrorist leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, she migrated to Isis controlled territory where she engaged in a reciprocal relationship with the Islamic State and then moved with Isis as it lost territory following the fall of Raqqa in 2016.

He described Ms Smith's journey to Syria as the "ultimate act of allegiance" to the terrorist organisation and said that those who travelled there provided the "life blood" of Isis. 

Before traveling, Mr Gillane said the accused had watched and justified videos of Isis drowning men in cages or firing on them using rocket launchers.

Counsel said Ms Smith is not being prosecuted for believing in Islam or in a caliphate, but for joining a terrorist group.

Michael O'Higgins SC, for Ms Smith, told the court that his client did not travel to Syria to take part in combat.

She was vulnerable, brittle, suicidal and depressed, he said, and as a recent convert to Islam she could not have known whether the caliphate announced by al-Baghdadi was legitimate.

He said tens of thousands of Muslims answered al-Baghdadi's call and if the prosecution is correct, all of them were subjected to "mass hypnotism" that turned them into zombies and robots who "descended on the area and immediately set about becoming members of a terrorist organisation."

Ms Smith (40), from Dundalk, Co Louth travelled to Syria in 2015 after al-Baghdadi called on all Muslims to travel to the Islamic State he had created.

She has pleaded not guilty to membership of an unlawful terrorist group, Islamic State, between October 28th, 2015 and December 1st, 2019. She has also pleaded not guilty to financing terrorism by sending €800 in assistance, via a Western Union money transfer, to a named man on May 6th, 2015.

Mr Gillane said that a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Act 2005 is an organisation which commits criminal offences to intimidate a population.

Isis, he said, is undoubtedly a terrorist organisation under Irish law.

He added: "There can be no rational dispute that it engaged in an unremitting campaign of orchestrated and theatrical violence, the purpose of which was at least to intimidate and cow populations and to force submission to its totalitarian view. Its violence was wedded to its aim to seize and hold territory to create a state-like dominion."

Membership of an organisation in Irish law, he said, denotes belonging or adhering to that group and in considering membership the court can draw inferences from a person's conduct, their associations or state of mind.

Their adherence can be declared through acts of allegiance or pledges of loyalty, he said.

Regarding the charge of funding terrorism, Mr Gillane said it is an "inescapable inference" that Ms Smith intended the e800 to be used to help Isis fighter John Georgelas get back on his feet and become operative again following an injury he suffered while fighting in Aleppo.

Mr Gillane said the accused converted to Islam in 2011, shortly after al-Baghdadi took over Isis.

She left the Irish army and started speaking online with Georgelas.

In 2013 Ms Smith travelled to Turkey to meet Georgelas and from there went to Syria where she married a Tunisian member of the Army of Mohammad who was fighting against the Assad regime.

She returned to Ireland in September 2014 without her husband.

In January 2014 Isis took control of Raqqa and in June that year al-Baghdadi declared himself the caliph of a new caliphate with global authority over all Muslims.

His caliphate was based on what Mr Gillane described as a "bigoted interpretation of Islam" which divided the world into two groups; there were those who were within the Isis fold and those without, against whom violence was justified.

He added: "The prosecution says this was the context and background through which Ms Smith's decision to travel and join the Islamic State is to be assessed."

He said Ms Smith was not being prosecuted for believing in Islam or the caliphate but for joining a terrorist group.

The self-declared caliphate was not a country or nation state but a proto-state created by an illegal organisation. Mr Gillane added:

"The criminal circularity of the declaration and enforcement is obvious: It is that we are Muslims and we declare Baghdadi to be the caliph and if you do not accept that, you are kafir, non-Muslim, apostate and you deserve death. It is no more complicated than that."

There was, counsel said, no good Islamic State that she could have been travelling to in 2015 and this was not an otherwise "lawful and wholesome journey" or "innocent act of travel near a place at an unfortunate point in time".

He said that Ms Smith may have felt "buyer's remorse" after the fact but that is not a defence.

He added: "Ms Smith specifically addressed, assessed and analyzed and ultimately answered the call to migrate to this place controlled by Isis."

Her journey, or "hijrah", to Syria, counsel said, was the "ultimate act of allegiance".

Such acts were vital to the survival of the terrorist organisation as they were the "life blood of the group".

Those making hijrah to Isis territory provided not just fighters but also "sustenance and vitality" to help the group achieve its aims.

Counsel said that such an act of hijrah identifies a person as a member of Isis and it "can't be ignored that she travelled thousands of miles to this place at that time and in the light of what she undoubtedly knew about the prevailing circumstances."

Mr Gillane said there was evidence going back as far as 2012 that Ms Smith was interested in the political side of Islam, was prone to talking about Al Qaeda, jihad as holy war and justifications for suicide bombings.

One witness told the trial that Ms Smith wanted a husband who would die as a martyr to Islam.

Mr Gillane reminded the court that Tania Joya, Georgelas' ex wife, told the trial that Ms Smith wanted to die as a martyr when they visited Syria in 2013 and said that if Georgelas had not radicalised Ms Smith, someone else would have.

Mr Gillane said it is also instructive to look at the "gallery of confederates" with whom Ms Smith was associated, including Georgelas, an Australian jihadist known as Robert Cerantonio and another Isis sympathiser also based in Australia.

Her social media interactions with those men, counsel said, show the "durability and persistence" of her views and state of knowledge and "give the lie to any suggestion that she had been led to some misinterpretation of the reality of Isis and what they were about."

In those social media posts, Mr Gillane said Ms Smith did not demur from a comment that there is nothing wrong with killings carried out by Isis.

In one exchange Georgelas condones the random shooting of young men by Isis, saying "we are commanded to strike fear into our enemies" and later said he has no problem cutting the heads of Shias.

Ms Smith's response, counsel said, was: "I get what you are saying."

In July 2014 she told the group that she wanted her husband to pledge loyalty to Baghdadi and said that "whether Baghdadi is good or bad doesn't matter, he has fulfilled his responsibilities."

After posting an article in which Islamic scholars rejected al-Baghdadi's caliphate, Ms Smith said:

"What have the scholars done for Muslims, at least al-Baghdadi did something" and "people love to talk but no-one wants to walk the line."

Mr Gillane said there is evidence that once in Syria Ms Smith did not want to leave and that she had made a pledge of loyalty.

She also sent a message to her sister saying: "We are in war and I won't be back." In a later message she said she was "well looked after" and on Feb 2, 2016 said "heaven doesn't come cheap". All this, Mr Gillane said, was "consistent with the philosophy of martyrdom".

Before travelling to Syria, Mr Gillane said Ms Smith had seen videos of men being drowned in a cage, fired on by rocket launchers and discussed them in detail.

He said she "rationalised and justified" what she had seen. Following an attack on tourists in Tunisia, he said the group described as a liar a scholar who wrote about integration and peace and one member said "may God destroy him" to which Ms Smith said, "Amen".

Mr Gillane said it is important to note that Ms Smith rejected integration and peace and "what's embraced is what's militant and violent".

Mr Gillane said Ms Smith called on Muslims to pledge loyalty to the caliphate, to "unite under one banner and fight the enemy instead of splitting into more sects".

Mr Gillane said that the accused reacted to the burning of a Jordanian pilot by saying, "he dropped bombs on innocent Muslims".

Counsel said Ms Smith had made choices with a full understanding of what she was doing.

Responding, Mr O'Higgins said one of his principle objections to the prosecution case is the "endless speculation".

He added: "In terms of hard evidence, it's not there but the prosecution doesn't have the good grace to concede that and instead makes grand statements."

He said that he was going to focus on the evidence and asked the court to do the same.

He said that at the time Ms Smith converted to Islam she was depressed, suicidal and looking for something.

She tried Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, fortune tellers and "fairies" and when she found Islam, it "turned her life on its head".

She fell in, counsel said, with a "pure and strict" sect of Islam in a mosque in Dundalk where she was told that "everything is forbidden" including music and other basic things.

She learned about conspiracy theories regarding the 9/11 attacks on America and then met Georgelas online.

She found out that making hijrah to get away from non-believers was a religious obligation for all Muslims and believed she would burn in hell for eternity if she failed to do so.

A belief in hell, Mr O'Higgins said, was once a norm for people in Ireland and such a belief would not be surprising to any Irish person aged over 40.

He said that his client was vulnerable and brittle, sometimes naive, but also at times showed a "startling" resilience and independence.

He said that her social media exchanges before she left for Syria showed that she had already accepted that there was to be no fighting role for her.

They also showed that she was thinking and that she could not understand how people being drowned in cages or fired on by rockets could be justified in Islam.

He compared the justification she was presented with to Christians talking about "an eye for an eye" and asked how evangelicals would react if a soldier was captured who had dropped bombs on their community.

Mr O'Higgins said that Islamic scholars differed on the legitimacy of al-Baghdadi's caliphate and added: "If the scholars can't agree, what hope has a revert [convert to Islam] like Lisa Smith."

Mr O'Higgins pointed to the evidence of Professor Hugh Kennedy who said that while most said the caliphate was not legitimate, there were respected voices who said it was and there was debate within the Islamic community.

Mr O'Higgins added: "This idea that you can brush aside the caliphate as some form of Arabic mafia simply doesn't stack up."

Within the Islamic State, Mr O'Higgins said women were of little value other than as homemakers.

On arrival in Syria Ms Smith was left in a women's home for six months before Georgelas got her out and she married an English Islamist soon afterwards.

The only services she supplied, Mr O'Higgins said, was to do washing, laundry, cooking and cleaning. He said the prosecution is trying to assert that by maintaining her husband in that way she became a member of Isis or that by having children she was providing soldiers for some future battlefield.

He pointed out that she is not accused of supporting or providing assistance but of actual membership because she supported her husband. Mr O'Higgins asked the court to imagine the wife of a member of an unlawful organisation being charged in this jurisdiction on the grounds that she was "cooking, cleaning and maintaining a good house for her husband".

Mr O'Higgins questioned the expertise of a prosecution witness, Dr Florence Gaub, who Mr O'Higgins said did not go to Syria during the conflict and never met anyone who was there.

She relied entirely on second and third hand information, Mr O'Higgins said, and her claims that westerners were given preferential treatment by Isis were not backed up by the sources she herself had quoted.

He questioned her assertion that joining the Islamic State and joining Isis were the same thing by comparing membership of Sinn Fein to membership of the IRA.

Mr O'Higgins will continue his speech to the court today.

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