03 Oct 2022

Lisa Smith told gardai she moved to Syria to build a state where could live surrounded by Muslims

Lisa Smith told gardai she moved to Syria to build a state where could live surrounded by Muslims

Lisa Smith, a former Irish soldier who denies membership of Islamic State, told gardai that she moved to Syria to help build a state where she could live and rear children surrounded by Muslims.

Following her arrest on return to Ireland from Syria in December 2019, Ms Smith told detectives that it is important for Muslims to live under Islam, inside the caliphate.

She said many prophecies about the return of the caliphate had come true and, she said, Muslims believe that the caliphate would be followed by the return of Jesus and the "day of judgement".

She further told gardai that among those who travelled to Syria were doctors, lawyers, engineers and brain surgeons. "You name it, they were there," she said, and they were all there to build the caliphate.

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.

Detective Garda Ciaran McGeough told prosecuting counsel Sean Gillane SC that he interviewed Ms Smith at Kevin Street Garda Station on December 1, 2019 after she had been arrested on suspicion of membership of Islamic State, an unlawful terrorist organisation. Det Gda McGeough agreed that Ms Smith asked what crime she was being accused of before telling gardai about how she came to become a Muslim.

She said her journey to Islam had been a long one; she had been "going down a path of depression" and was "kind of suicidal". She had tried many different beliefs and had gone to many spiritual leaders and fortune tellers.

At the same time, she said she was beginning to notice things in the Middle East and wondered why there were wars there and why the West was getting involved. "What did they do to us? This was what I was thinking," she said.

While on a flight with the Irish Air Force she remembered seeing two men who were being brought back from Guantanamo Bay.

She felt sorry for them, she said, and wondered why they were "getting tortured".

When she tried to give them a plate of food they seemed to be afraid, as if they thought she was going to hurt them. She said she went to Tunisia on holidays and "loved it".

She met Muslims and they seemed friendly and nice.  

In her second interview Ms Smith said that she began reading about Islam and Christianity on the internet and would talk to Muslims using private chat on Facebook.

She asked about many topics including what she had heard about Muslim men beating up women and having control over their wives.

She said she was happy with the answers she got. She didn't class herself as a Muslim at this time but in April 2011 she began reading the Quran and, she said, she "realised it was the truth".

She said: "I cried and I laughed and I was happy. I had found what I was looking for and that was how I became a Muslim."

She began wearing the hijab and spoke to other female Muslims about Islam. She learned that for Muslims there are no nations and nationalism is not allowed because "it's god you should be fighting for or working for, it's not for any race, colour or tribe.

It's not allowed in Islam." She was told she would have to leave her job with the army and when she was told she could not wear the hijab while on duty she decided she would have to choose between Islam and her job.

She said Muslims believe in "heaven and hellfire" so she decided Islam was more important. She said: "The job is only going to be a couple of years and a few pounds, a pension. The religion was going to be forever in the afterlife, so as a Muslim this was a no-brainer."

She left her job and married an Algerian man but they divorced after a few months.

She went to Tunisia in 2012 with a friend and began speaking online with an American convert to Islam named John Georgelas, who she knew as Abu Hassan.

At the time she was struggling with some of the Islamic teachings where, she said, "everything is not allowed".

She had discovered there were many different groups within the religion that were "clashing" and it wasn't all the "big happy family" she had believed it to be. She became close to Georgelas who taught her about Islam and showed her that a Muslim follows the prophet and the Quran and not the opinions of scholars.

He told her to learn Arabic so she could learn for herself and pointed out where to find verses in the Quran or sayings from the prophet so that she could look it up for herself rather than "listening and blindly following". She said she believed Georgelas had her best interests at heart and travelled to Turkey to meet him and his wife, Tania Joya, in September 2013.  

After a few days in Turkey, they crossed the border into Syria and Ms Joya, who "hated the place and wanted to leave," told Ms Smith she should not stay in Syria unless she gets married. Ms Smith said she married a Tunisian man who was part of the "Army of Mohammad", and was fighting against the Assad regime.  

When another Islamic group arrived, Ms Smith's husband described them as "very harsh" and said he hated them. They left Syria for Tunisia where Ms Smith lived for another nine months before returning to Ireland.

When she got back to Ireland she thought Georgelas would be dead but she found him online.

In 2014 the caliphate was announced but Ms Smith didn't immediately go because, she said, she didn't know if it was real.

She explained that it is important for Muslims to live inside the caliphate. Before the day of judgement, she said, there are many signs that have been prophesied that have already happened. She said after the caliphate returns, Jesus is coming back and added: "This is a belief for Muslims." The caliphate, she said, has one leader, the caliph, and "there is power and security within it".

Georgelas told her the new caliphate was "legit". She thought that if she ever had children she wanted to "bring them up properly under Islam" where they would be surrounded by Muslims and would not be tempted to drink or smoke or do other things Muslims are not allowed to do.

She decided to go to Syria where she said she was joined by doctors, lawyers, engineers and brain surgeons. Her husband, she said, was a school teacher who wanted to educate children.

She added: "So everyone is trying to play their part to build this state. It had land, it had power, so we were going to stay."

Earlier yesterday, Tuesday February 1st,  Mr Justice Tony Hunt, presiding in the three-judge, non-jury court, rejected a defence application which stated that Ms Smith's arrest was unlawful.

Michael O'Higgins SC, for Ms Smith, had argued that she was arrested under the Offences Against the State Act 1939 which does not allow for prosecution of offences alleged to have taken place outside the jurisdiction. Mr Justice Tony Hunt ruled that the garda who arrested Ms Smith had properly exercised his power of arrest under the Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Act which, the judge said, should be viewed alongside the 1939 Act.

The trial continues.

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