Lisa Smith was vulnerable and ‘wanted to belong’, opening day of trial told

Former Defence Forces member enveloped herself in the ‘black flag of the Islamic State’ court hears

Lisa Smith arriving at the courts first day of her trial in Dublin on Tuesday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Lisa Smith arriving at the courts first day of her trial in Dublin on Tuesday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Lisa Smith was a vulnerable, isolated person who “wanted to belong”, the trial of the former Defence Forces member has heard on its opening day.

Ms Smith is accused of joining Islamic State, also known as Isis, in 2015 and of helping to finance the group. According to the prosecution, which its made opening speech in the Special Criminal Court trial on Tuesday, she enveloped herself in the “black flag of the Islamic State”.

Ms Smith (39) of Dundalk, Co Louth has pleaded not guilty to joining a foreign unlawful organisation, namely the Islamic State, between October 28th 2015 and December 1st 2019 in a location outside the State.

She has also pleaded not guilty to financing terrorism by sending €800 by Western Union money transfer to a named person in 2015.

The first witness, Una McCartney gave evidence that she had known Ms Smith for 20 years, having also grown up in Dundalk.

She said they discussed religion and recalled Ms Smith expressing a wish to go somewhere where people held the same Muslim faith. However, Ms McCartney said she did not know Ms Smith wanted to go to Syria.

She said she did not know Ms Smith was leaving the country until her daughter spotted her getting on a bus with two suitcases.

Ms McCartney said the home life of Ms Smith was not great and that her father was a alcoholic who could “probably” be a bit violent.

In her youth, the accused enjoyed drinking, partying and “probably” a bit of hash, the witness agreed. She added Ms Smith “would not be great on drink”.

Ms Smith would “go hell for leather on things” which would then fizzle out, Ms McCartney said. She said she assumed this would also occur with her conversion to Islam in 2011.

The witness agreed with defence counsel Michael O’Higgins SC that Ms Smith was isolated and vulnerable.

Ms McCartney said she believed Ms Smith “needed help or counselling” and that she was perhaps “looking for belonging or comfort”.

‘Hijra’

The prosecution’s second witness, Gillian McNichols, said she met Ms Smith around 2013 through a women’s teaching circle at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Clonskeagh, Dublin.

Prior to this she had heard another woman was “concerned” about Ms Smith. The witness said she looked at Ms Smith’s Facebook page and saw that her “avatar” was of a man on a horse holding up the Islamic State flag.

The trial began with an detailed opening speech by prosecution counsel Sean Gillane SC. He said the concept of “hijrah”, which in this context meant showing loyalty to the Islamic State by emigrating to its territory, is central to the prosecution case.

He said Ms Smith “tried to access Islamic State controlled territory and sought out the means in which this could be done” and that she “enveloped herself in the standard or black flag of Isis.”

Mr Gillane said the court will hear evidence that she “expressed a desire to live under sharia law and die a martyr.”

Counsel described the historical basis for the rise of Islamic State, going back to the division of Islam into Sunni and Shi’ite sects following the death of Mohammed.

He said the trial will hear evidence concerning the “personal history of accused and looking at the wider social and political history of Middle East and Iraq.”

Mr Gillane said the prosecution is not concerned with religion or religious belief but that there will be contextual evidence concerning Islam and its history in the region.

He detailed the violence employed by Islamic State which, he said, went beyond securing military objectives. He said the court will hear about “individual horrors” inflicted on “apostates” and other groups it considered enemies.

There will also be evidence of Islamic State’s extensive use to the internet to spread its message, he said.

Defence Forces

Ms Smith joined the Defence Forces in 2001 and remained for 10 years, Mr Gillane said. She left after converting to Islam in 2011, after Ms Smith was refused permission to wear the traditional Muslim hijab while on duty

In October 2012, she met a man online who was living in Egypt with his wife. They communicated via the Facebook messaging service and he appeared to mentor her on Islamic faith and texts, counsel said.

Mr Gillane said that during these conversations, Ms Smith discussed her wish to make hijrah i.e. to emigrate to Islamic State territory. She also became administrator of a private Facebook group called “We hear, We obey”.

During this time, she engaged in discussions about a willingness to live under sharia law and die a martyr, Mr Gillane said.

She also used the private messaging application Telegram to discuss a video from Islamic State of men being locked in a cage and drowned. During the conversation, Ms Smith said “Ok, I understand why they were drowned. I didn’t know the other half of the story,” counsel alleged.

In October 2012, Ms Smith made a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. At one point she married a Tunisian male who was a member of a militant group in his country.

Syria

At another point, one of the men who was mentoring her in Islam was injured in the Middle East and Ms Smith tried to wire €800 to aid in his rehabilitation, counsel said.

In October 2015, Ms Smith left for Syria without telling her family her final destination. She flew first to Istanbul on a one-way ticket before making her way to Syria, counsel said.

Once in Syria she stayed in a Islamic State boarding house before moving in with a man and his wife, he said. Mr Gillane said Ms Smith implored her husband to join her in Syria but that he refused. In turn, she refused to leave Syrian to join him.

Around June 2016, Ms Smith then divorced this man and married a UK national called Abu Mohammad. They moved to an area near the Iraqi border where her husband engaged in border patrols. Mr Gillane said Ms Smith also encouraged her husband to do a snipers’ course.

By 2017 the Islamic State was starting to lose territory with its last stronghold falling in March 2019. Ms Smith was detained by opposition forces and held in as displaced persons’ camp. While there she volunteered evidence to the FBI and a journalist, Mr Gillane said.

Counsel said Ms Smith “specifically addressed, assessed and answered the call to migrate to the territory controlled by Islamic State” .

He said “every inch” of the territory claimed by the group “was won over by a campaign of targeted terror and violence.”

Islamic State was a “proto state” and that Ms Smith’s hegira was “a central act of allegiance to this proto state.”

Hegira was the “very life blood” of Islamic State, he said. It is the prosecution case that, while the group needed fighters, it also needed “all those who could give it sustenance and vitality.”

The trial before the non-jury court, which is presided over by Mr Justice Tony Hunt, is expected to last 12 weeks.