Lisa Smith and her daughter expected back in Ireland tomorrow
Departure from Turkey tomorrow contingent on final approval from Turkish authorities
Lisa Smith’s departure from Turkey tomorrow is contingent on final approval from the Turkish authorities. Photograph: BBC
A small team of Defence Forces personnel flew to Turkey on Friday tasked with accompanying Islamic State supporter Lisa Smith and her two-year-old daughter back to Ireland on Saturday.
The Dundalk native and former Defence Forces member is currently in a queue for deportation in Turkey along with other supporters of the terrorist group who were captured by Turkish forces in Syria.
Ms Smith is expected to fly home on a commercial aircraft, military sources told The Irish Times.
She will be accompanied on the flight by a small team of Government officials and members of the elite Army Ranger Wing (ARW). The ARW will keep a low profile and wear civilian clothes.
It is the second time ARW personnel have being deployed to aid in Ms Smith’s repatriation. A small team had previously been dispatched to provide liaison support to Department of Foreign Affairs officials negotiating the return of the woman and her daughter to Ireland.
Ms Smith’s departure from Turkey on Saturday is contingent on final approval from the Turkish authorities. Turkish security personnel have already interviewed the 38-year-old about her time with Islamic State in Syria.
On her arrival in Ireland Ms Smith will be met by special branch gardaí who will seek an interview with the woman. It is not known if she will be arrested.
The Turkish government is eager to deport Ms Smith, particularly following a press release from a group of UN human rights experts suggesting that she might be subject to abuse in Turkish custody.
The remarks caused significant anger among Turkish Government officials and led the Foreign Ministry to demand a retraction last Sunday.
A spokesman told Turkish state-owned media Ms Smith’s case had been handled “attentively and delicately”.
He said Turkey, “while taking measures against the security threats emerging in the region on one hand, does its utmost to extend support to the victims - particularly women and children- of the inhumane conditions on the other”.
Ms Smith (38), a former Irish Air Corps member who served on the Government jet, was in the Ain Issa displacement camp in north east Syria, along with other family members of Islamic State fighters, until it was bombed by Turkish warplanes in October. She fled north on foot until she was picked up by a Turkish-backed militia.
On Friday Taoiseach Leo Varadkar refused to go into detail about the operation to return Ms Smith to Ireland. He said Tusla is playing a role in the matter, along with the Garda and Defence Forces.
“It is a tricky situation. Ultimately the child is an Irish citizen and deserves to be protected in my view. Ultimately we need to protect our citizens,” Mr Varadkar told reporters at a graduation ceremony in Templemore for 197 new gardaí.
Mr Varadkar said there was a need to ensure the welfare of Ms Smith’s daughter. “Of course there are relatives that are in contact and Tusla are aware that situation may arise.”
Ms Smith is also an Irish citizen and has the right to return home should she wish, the Taoiseach added.
It is understood the Dundalk woman’s family members have expressed a willingness to care for her child in the event of her possible detention upon arrival in Ireland. However, any final decision would rest with Tusla.
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said he has presented plans to Government about how to handle Ms Smith’s repatriation and he is “content” that these are suitable and proportionate.
The commissioner said he does not think Ireland requires a deradicalisation programme for suspected terrorists returning from war zones because of the “very small” numbers involved. Instead the authorities can look at individuals “in a bespoke manner” based on the potential threat they pose to the State.
“We are managing them on a bespoke fashion proportionate to what we think the threat is.”