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Ex-Irish soldier goes on trial for IS membership

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Lisa Smith was arrested by police at Dublin Airport on December 1, 2019. The former Irish soldier is charged with being a member of the so-called Islamic State jihadist group in Syria. AFP

Ex-Irish soldier goes on trial for IS membership

A former Irish army soldier went on trial in Dublin on January 25 accused of being a member of the so-called Islamic State jihadist group in Syria.

Lisa Smith, 39, from Dundalk, on Ireland’s east coast, has pleaded not guilty to membership of an unlawful terrorist group between October 28, 2015 and December 1, 2019.

She has also denied funding terrorism by sending €800 ($900) to aid medical treatment for a Syrian man in Turkey.

But prosecutor Sean Gillane said Smith had “enveloped herself in the black flag of ISIS” in response to a call to arms from the group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

In doing so, she had “self-identified” as a member of the proscribed group, he told three judges at the Special Criminal Court in the Irish capital.

Gillane said Smith was a member of the Irish Defence Forces from 2001 to 2011 but applied to leave after converting to Islam.

Smith, said by one witness to have had a difficult upbringing with a violent, alcoholic father, had applied unsuccessfully for the right to wear a hijab.

In 2012, she went on pilgrimage to Mecca, and on an Islamic Facebook page expressed a desire to live under Sharia law and to die a martyr.

Smith moved to IS-controlled territory in October 2015 after buying a one-way ticket from Dublin to Turkey, and from there crossing the border to Syria.

The court was told she lived in Raqqa, the capital of Baghdadi’s self-styled caliphate, and unsuccessfully attempted to get her husband to join her.

He refused and she divorced him in 2016. Some months later, she married a UK national who had moved to Syria and been involved in patrols on the Iraq border.

When Raqqa fell to allied forces in 2018, she moved to Baghouz, the group’s last remaining stronghold.

After that too fell in March 2019, she eventually returned to Ireland and was arrested on arrival with her young daughter at Dublin airport on December 1.

Gillane said the judges had to consider Smith’s conversations, state of mind and statements, arguing that her IS membership could be inferred from her conduct.

Moving to IS-controlled territory “is a central act of allegiance . . . an act without which the terrorist government can not survive”, he added.

The extremist Sunni group, known for brutally executing those who did not share its radical ideology, required pledges of loyalty for “sustenance and vitality”, he said.

Smith, described by one witness as “naive and easily taken in” who may have been “looking for a sense of belonging” in Islam, was “running with ISIS, not running away”, Gillane said.

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