Former soldier Lisa Smith, who was convicted earlier this year of membership of Islamic State (Isis), was at the “lowest level” of the terrorist organisation and her sentence of 15 months was “excessive”, her lawyers have told the Court of Appeal.
Appealing the sentence, Michael O’Higgins SC told the three-judge court that his client went to Isis-controlled Syria “got married, kept house and that’s it”. He said she went out of a religious conviction and “did not contribute to any state-building exercise and did no positive act in favour of Isis”.
Mr O’Higgins said that the Special Criminal Court, which convicted and sentenced Smith, did not give enough regard to the mitigating factors, including that she is a mother of a young child.
He said the court had incorrectly placed her offending at the higher end of the lower level for membership of a terrorist organisation and stated that the evidence showed that her involvement with Isis could not have been at a lower level than it was.
Mr O’Higgins also said that, in sentencing Smith, the Special Criminal Court should have taken into account the nine-and-a-half months she spent in two detention camps in Syria. The conditions in those camps were appalling, he said, adding that she was locked up “day and night” in a place where people held extreme views and where murder “routinely happens”.
He said that Smith was convicted on the basis that she submitted to the jurisdiction of Isis and that you could criminalise an entire nation on the same basis, but that such offences would have to be considered at the lowest possible level of membership.
Sean Gillane SC, for the Director of Public Prosecutions, said that Isis was a terrorist organisation of “some notoriety which carried out acts of almost historically unprecedented bloodiness”. He said Smith knew of its “bloodlust” and discussed Isis atrocities with others in online conversations.
“The very essence of the terror was known to her, discussed by her and in some situations explicitly approbated by her.”
Smith also knew that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of Isis, had been denounced by Islamic academics all over the world but she still chose to travel to Syria. She rejected every entreaty not to go, counsel said, and when in Syria she rejected every call to return.
She rejected her own husband who asked her not to go and divorced him when he refused to pledge allegiance to al-Baghdadi, Mr Gillane said.
Counsel said the headline sentence of 2½ years set by the Special Criminal Court was appropriate. The reduction from the headline to 15 months, he said, showed that the court did take into account mitigating factors including the hardship she had endured in the detention camps in Syria.
The Court of Appeal reserved judgment. Ms Smith’s lawyers intend to appeal her conviction later this year.
Smith became the first person to be convicted in an Irish court of an Islamic terrorist offence committed abroad when the three-judge, non-jury Special Criminal Court found that she joined Isis when she travelled to Syria in 2015. The 40-year-old, from Dundalk, Co Louth, had pleaded not guilty to membership of an unlawful terrorist group, Islamic State, between October 28th, 2015 and December 1st, 2019.