02 Oct 2022

Dundalk woman Lisa Smith "threw her life away to go and join a violent extremist ideology" ,court told

Dundalk woman Lisa Smith "threw her life away to go and join a violent extremist ideology" ,court told

Lisa Smith, a former Irish soldier who denies membership of Islamic State, "threw her life away to go and join a violent extremist ideology", a witness has told the Special Criminal Court.

Tania Joya, who knew Ms Smith when the accused first travelled to Turkey and Syria in 2013, told the three-judge, non-jury court about her own path to radicalisation and how she changed her opinions. She said Ms Smith had grown up in a society where she had "all the liberties I didn't have" and "threw all that away" because she had been rejected by her own people and was "embraced" by the Muslim community.

She said that Islam, which she described as a "religion of hate", can be attractive for people with "low self-esteem and hate".

She added that there was a "big difference" between Ms Smith's situation and her own, coming from a Muslim community where she was never exposed to criticism of Islam. Ms Smith, she said, "threw her life away to go and join a violent, extremist ideology."

Ms Joya also said that when in the Middle East Ms Smith enjoyed the attention she got from Arab men, who the witness said have "this lust and craze for white people".

She added: "Lisa didn't get that from her own people, so she liked it." 

Ms Smith (39) from Dundalk, Co Louth has pleaded not (NOT) guilty to membership of an unlawful terrorist group, Islamic State, between October 28th, 2015 and December 1st, 2019. She has also pleaded not (NOT) guilty to financing terrorism by sending €800 in assistance, via a Western Union money transfer, to a named man on May 6th, 2015.

Ms Joya has told the court that she was married to an American convert to Islam known as John Georgelas.

Georgelas, she said, became an Islamic scholar who wrote academic papers and for magazines including Rumiyah and Dabiq, which she said published Isis propaganda.

She told defence counsel Michael O'Higgins SC that in 2013 Ms Smith was communicating with Georgelas every day on the internet. She was, the witness said, obedient to Islam, listened to what Georgelas told her and discussed scripture with him at length. In 2013, when Ms Smith travelled to Turkey, she was Georgelas's student, Ms Joya said.

When Ms Smith arrived in Turkey, Ms Joya said the accused wanted to travel to Syria to fight for Islamic rebels against the Assad regime. 

She said Ms Smith "felt an obligation to use her training to help the Syrians." She agreed that Georgelas told Ms Smith that there was no role for women but the witness said that what Georgelas told Ms Smith was not true.

She said women did play a role including in helping to strap bombs to people. Georgelas' opinion, she said, was "just one opinion" and Ms Smith didn't just listen to Georgelas.

She added: "There were other scholars and we know there were other women involved in the jihad." 

Ms Joya was asked by Mr O'Higgins, for the defence, if she remembered that when Ms Smith asked what she could do in Syria, she was laughed at and told that the only place for a woman was in the kitchen.

The witness replied that she didn't remember hearing those things being said.

Ms Smith married a Tunisian man shortly after arriving in Syria in 2013 and, Mr O'Higgins said, she got pregnant twice within six months.

Ms Joya said Ms Smith may have felt pressure from her husband to have a child.

She agreed with Mr O'Higgins that in Islam wives are expected to obey their husbands and their husbands can "chastise" their wives by beating them. She said that Islam teaches that to disobey your husband is to disobey god.

Ms Joya spoke at length about Islam and Muslim communities, saying that even moderate Muslims don't understand secularism.

There was, she said, a lot of support among Muslims for Islamic State when it was "doing well", but many had a change of heart when the caliphate began to retreat.

She said Muslims don't like to live among non-Muslims and are obligated by their religion to move to Muslim areas, or make "hijrah", if they can.

She described Islam as a "religion of intolerance" and a "religion of hate" and quoted Mohammad as warning Muslims that if they live among non-believers they will "smell like them". For many Muslims, she said, the obligation to make hijrah is too much of a hardship, so they don't comply.

She agreed with Mr O'Higgins that when she was young and angry, Islam "provided a voice" for her pain.

But she added: "If I hadn't been born a Muslim I wouldn't have felt that way."

She said her community told her not to read anything non-Islamic and not to explore other religions or ideas. She had never been exposed to criticism of Islam, she said. 

She agreed that her own journey out of radicalisation took a long time. Georgelas, she said, held her back, telling her not to read certain books and preventing her from hearing alternative ideas.

All her life, she said she had tried to be obedient to god and took her parents word for it that the Koran was the word of god. She didn't see the contradictions it contained, she said, and had been "indoctrinated" by Islamic teaching.

As a young person she was told she was stupid and a "bimbo" and believed she needed god to tell her what to do. As she got older, she said, she got smarter.

She had raised her two eldest children to be "warriors" or jihadists and leaders of the caliphate who would "kill and be killed".

But as her children grew up her thinking changed.

She recalled being "very angry" with her husband when her eldest boy was taken out for shooting practice without any safety training and recalled another incident when one of her children arrived at their house with a live grenade.

It took many incidents like that for the "bubble to burst", she said. 

The court has also been watching two interviews Ms Smith conducted with journalist Norma Costello while Ms Smith was being held in a camp in Syria following the fall of Isis' last Syrian stronghold.

The trial continues on Monday in front of Mr Justice Tony Hunt, Judge Gerard Griffin and Judge Cormac Dunne.

To continue reading this article,
please subscribe and support local journalism!

Subscribing will allow you access to all of our premium content and archived articles.


To continue reading this article for FREE,
please kindly register and/or log in.

Registration is absolutely 100% FREE and will help us personalise your experience on our sites. You can also sign up to our carefully curated newsletter(s) to keep up to date with your latest local news!

Register / Login

Buy the e-paper of the Donegal Democrat, Donegal People's Press, Donegal Post and Inish Times here for instant access to Donegal's premier news titles.

Keep up with the latest news from Donegal with our daily newsletter featuring the most important stories of the day delivered to your inbox every evening at 5pm.