Lisa Smith planned to die in Syria and ‘be a martyr’ court hears

A woman who knew former Defence Forces member told the Special Criminal Court she was ‘indoctrinated’

Lisa Smith, from Dundalk, Co Louth, at the Special Criminal Court on Thursday where her trial continues. Photograph: Collins Courts

Lisa Smith, from Dundalk, Co Louth, at the Special Criminal Court on Thursday where her trial continues. Photograph: Collins Courts

 

Former Defence Forces member Lisa Smith, who denies membership of Islamic State, was “indoctrinated and told what to think and did what she did because she believed in a fake god,” a woman who knew her in Syria has told the Special Criminal Court.

Tania Joya, a UK national who was radicalised in her teens and 20s and travelled to the Middle East with her husband, said Ms Smith was happy and excited when she arrived in Syria in 2013, felt she was where she had always planned to be, and was planning to die there as a martyr.

The witness also revealed how Ms Smith looked up to her husband, John Georgelas, an American convert who was considered an authority and scholar on Islam. She said Ms Smith “hung on his every word” and “looked up to him in a big way”. He was charismatic, she said, and had such knowledge of the Koran that he could use it to contextualise any situation.

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 said she first heard about Lisa Smith in 2013 when her husband John Georgelas, an American convert to Islam, began speaking to Ms Smith through an Islamic Facebook page called “We Hear We Obey”. Ms Joya was living with her husband in Egypt at the time and he urged Ms Smith to travel to Egypt to “make hijrah”. He also made Ms Smith an administrator of the We Hear We Obey page, although Ms Joya said this “wasn’t really anything significant”.

Crackdown

The witness said she enjoyed talking to Ms Smith through Facebook. They spoke about the situation in Egypt including the government crackdown on Islamists. She said there were “choppers over our heads” and the military was killing people and burning mosques. The family decided to leave.

Ms Joya wanted to go to Greece so she could stop wearing the hijab but her husband didn’t want to allow that and decided they would go to Turkey where they arranged to meet Ms Smith. Ms Joya looked forward to meeting Ms Smith because she wanted help looking after her children and she thought Ms Smith seemed very nice.

Ms Smith arrived alone in Turkey in late August, 2013 and moved into the same hotel where Ms Joya and her family were staying. Things got “ugly”, Ms Joya said, because Ms Smith wanted to go to Syria to join the rebellion against the Assad regime. She said Ms Smith felt an “obligation to help the rebels because they were being oppressed.” Ms Joya explained that many Muslims are “brainwashed” into thinking that if they die a martyr they go to Paradise and bring all their loved ones with them. “It’s a one-way ticket,” she said.

One night when they were looking for somewhere to stay, Ms Joya, her children, her husband and Ms Smith got on a bus. The witness didn’t know where they were going but when the sun came up she realised they had crossed the border into Syria. She said Georgelas promised they would stay just for a couple of weeks.

“Lisa was excited,” she said. “I see her face in my head and there was excitement there... She had made it to where she had always planned to go.” She said Ms Smith was “planning to die there and be a martyr. It wasn’t unusual. A lot of Muslims were saying that.”

Inferior

In Syria nobody spoke to her or to Lisa because “we were women and inferior”. But they were taken care of because a Sheikh who knew Georgelas told the militia to take care of them. They were brought to a villa which had no running water or electricity. The windows were smashed and there were bullet holes in the walls. It was dirty, she said, and was used by a lot of people arriving into the country.

There was a curfew and it was hard to get food but the militia brought drinking water and groceries. Ms Joya complained but she said Ms Smith was happy. She added: “Lisa had a good attitude. She was very optimistic whereas I was the exact opposite.” Everyone loved Ms Smith, the witness said, in particular because she covered herself in the way considered appropriate for women, something Ms Joya refused to do.

Ms Joya also felt that Ms Smith needed to marry because the “Arab men were drooling over her because of her white skin”. But she didn’t approve of the husband she had chosen, a Tunisian member of Al Qaeda. They couldn’t talk to one another, she said, and the only reason Ms Smith wanted to marry him was because he was “hot”, and he was a fighter.

Wedding

She described him as a good-looking and charming Tunisian with a cute smile. He wanted to marry Ms Smith, the witness said, because she was white. Ms Joya refused to attend the wedding ceremony. She said: “She knew I thought it was ridiculous but she didn’t care. To her I wasn’t a good Muslim. And I wasn’t, because I didn’t want to be a Muslim.”

Ms Joya had decided she was going to leave and arranged to get out of Syria. Before she left she said Ms Smith asked if she was going to report her to the authorities. Ms Joya told her she would have to. Ms Smith, she said, immediately blocked her on Facebook.

Ms Joya was brought by human traffickers as far as Turkey and flew to Istanbul and eventually returned to the United States to live with Georgelas’s parents in Texas. She said she contacted Georgelas from time to time on social media. She identified him in a number of photographs taken in 2014 near Aleppo after he had been injured.

Under cross-examination she told defence counsel Michael O’Higgins SC that when she first met Georgelas she found him charismatic and fun. He was intelligent, spoke many languages, and could dote on her when he wanted. He spoke Arabic better than many Arabs, had published poetry in that language and was hired by the State of Qatar to translate Islamic laws. People, including scholars, looked up to him and he knew how to draw people to him, she said, and could “sway them with how smart he was”.

But she also described him as a “misogynist” who used the Koran to justify lying to her. She said he had “psychopathic tendencies”; he thought torturing people would be fun. She said Ms Smith was not not on Georgelas’s level intellectually or in terms of communication skills. She agreed that she was open and receptive to his ideas and “looked up to him in a very big way”.

Radicalisation

She described her own path into radicalisation in the UK and how in 2006 she had come to believe in the idea of the caliphate herself. She said she believed at that time that if you did not join the caliphate you would go to hell. But she was also conflicted during this time and would question what she was told and “blaspheme”. When she read the words of Thomas Paine, “a cruel god makes a cruel man,” she stopped believing in the radical version of Islam and began to move away from extremism. “He articulated the words I had been feeling for years,” she said.

Up to that point, she said she had not heard a rational argument against what she was being taught. She said that when she questioned things, other Muslims would tell her she wasn’t religious enough or was too materialistic or worldly. When Mr O’Higgins asked if the accused would have believed that she would go to hell if she did not take part in the caliphate, the witness said Ms Smith was “indoctrinated and told what to think and she obeyed what she thought because she believed in a fake god.”

The trial continues in front of Mr Justice Tony Hunt, presiding, with Judge Gerard Griffin and Judge Cormac Dunne at the three-judge, non-jury court.