Lisa Smith ‘threw her life away’ to join extremist ideology, court told

Witness says former Defence Forces member ‘felt an obligation to use her training to help the Syrians’

Lisa Smith arriving at the Special Criminal Court in Dublin on Friday for her trial. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Lisa Smith arriving at the Special Criminal Court in Dublin on Friday for her trial. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire


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 her trial at the Special Criminal Court.

Tania Joya, who knew Ms Smith when the accused first travelled to Turkey and Syria in 2013, told the 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.

Ms Joya said Islam can be attractive for people with “low self-esteem and hate”. She said 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.

She said Ms Smith “threw her life away to go and join a violent, extremist ideology”.

Ms Joya said that during her time 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”.

“Lisa didn’t get that from her own people, so she liked it,” she added.

Ms Smith (39), from Dundalk, Co Louth, 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.

Ms Joya has told the court that she was married to an American convert to Islam known as John Georgelas, who she said became an Islamic scholar and wrote for magazines which she said published Isis propaganda.

She told defence counsel Michael O’Higgins SC that Ms Smith was communicating with Mr Georgelas every day on the internet in 2013. She was, the witness said, obedient to Islam, listened to what Mr Georgelas told her and discussed scripture with him at length.

In 2013, when Ms Smith travelled to Turkey, she was Mr 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 Mr Georgelas told Ms Smith there was no role for women but the witness said that what he had told Ms Smith was not true. She said women did play a role, including in helping to strap bombs to people.

Mr Georgelas’ opinion, she said, was “just one opinion” and Ms Smith did not listen just to him.

“There were other scholars and we know there were other women involved in the jihad.”

Ms Joya was asked by Mr O’Higgins if she remembered Ms Smith asking what she could do in Syria, before being laughed at and told the only place for a woman was in the kitchen. The witness said she did not remember hearing this.

Ms Smith married a Tunisian man shortly after arriving in Syria in 2013 and, Mr O’Higgins said, she became 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.

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

“If I hadn’t been born a Muslim I wouldn’t have felt that way,” she added.

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

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

The trial continues on Monday.