Irish officials and special forces attempt to repatriate Lisa Smith
Smith believed to held close to Syria’s border with Turkey by members of militia
Members of the Defence Forces and Government officials have started a “Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation” to repatriate Islamic State supporter Lisa Smith and her young daughter. File photograph: BBC screengrab
Following the loss of most of Islamic State’s territory Ms Smith was detained in a refugee camp in north east Syria. She fled the camp last month with her daughter and walked north before being picked up by a Turkish-backed militia.
It is understood Ms Smith is currently being held by members of the militia close to Syria’s border with Turkey.
A delegation from the Department of Foreign Affairs has been deployed to the border area of Turkey to facilitate the return of Ms Smith and her daughter to Ireland where she may face charges for aiding a terrorist group.
Last month the Garda confirmed it was investigating the woman on suspicion of breaching anti-terror legislation.
Members of the Army Ranger Wing (ARW), the Irish Army’s special forces arm, have also deployed with the Irish delegation to provide protection and security advice, sources have confirmed. The move was first reported in this morning’s Sunday World newspaper.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs declined to comment this morning, citing its policy of not commenting on individual cases.
It is not known how much progress has been made in securing the repatriation of Ms Smith. She is still believed to be in Syria in the company of several other women who escaped from the Ain Issa camp three weeks ago after Turkish warplanes bombed the area.
An Irish Government source said the Department of Foreign Affairs have been liaising with Turkish officials and aid agencies in the area since the middle of last month in an effort to establish Ms Smith’s location.
the mission has been launched amid increasing concerns about the safety of Ms Smith and her two year old child.
The Government is hopeful Turkey, as the main backers of the group holding Smith, will be able to secure her transfer from Syria to Turkey.
From there she will likely be repatriated to Dublin on a commercial aircraft. Travel documentation for the woman and her daughter has already been drafted for this purpose.
The presence of elite Army Ranger Wing personnel on the mission is to ensure the safety of officials rather than to secure Ms Smith’s release through military means, Defence Forces sources say.
The Irish soldiers are also helping officials to liaise with military forces operating in the area. “It’s a highly militarised border. [THE ARW] are helping to communicate with other forces. Soldiers talk to other soldiers,” said a military source.
“It’s called an NEO, a Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation. The child at least is definitely a non-combatant,” they said.
The Irish troops are in plain clothes and “discreetly” armed for protection purposes.
The Defence Forces have carried out NEO missions before. The largest was the evacuation of Irish citizens from Libya at the start of the civil war there in 2011.
Ms Smith, a former member of the Irish Air Corps, was in the Ain Issa camp with her two-year-old daughter for several weeks, having previously been held in the Al-Hawl camp 220km away.
She had been sharing a tent with the wife and Irish born child of Islamic State supporter Alexandr Bekmirzaev, a naturalised Irish citizen who was captured by Kurdish forces earlier this year.