Smith faces complex dynamic in bid to leave Syria for Ireland

Former Defence Forces member’s ambiguity on Isis adds to logistic challenge of extraction

Lisa Smith has made a complex diplomatic situation even more difficult by doing media interviews in which she continues to stop well short of stepping away from and condemning Islamic State (Isis), informed sources have said.

In her latest interview from Syria, former Defence Forces member Smith has also been forced to deny allegations that she trained girls aged nine to 12 years to use weapons.

NGOs who work on the ground in Syria, and who may be in a position to help Smith leave the country, must very closely guard their independence or risk being closed down and deported by the Syrian authorities.

“The last person they would want to be seen to be helping is someone regarded as a combatant. So the conversation around Lisa Smith, and the comments she has made herself, make that situation even worse,” said a source.


In her latest interview with the BBC, as well as denying she taught girls how to use guns, she also questioned who was being truthful about accounts of the murder, rape and enslavement by Isis of Yazidi women.

The Co Louth-born former Aer Corp crew, Smith also said she wanted “an actual caliphate, as in a Muslim country”, but that she did not want “a brutality group”.

Red Cross involvement

The Department of Foreign Affairs is the lead agency in Ireland in trying to secure Smith's passage home with her two-year-old daughter from the refugee camp .

Her most likely exit from the al-Hawl camp in northeastern Syria close to the borders both of Iraq and Turkey is with the involvement of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) or a similar agency.

If that were to happen, the agency would bring the mother and child to an international border where she would then be handed over to Irish officials.

However, the Turks or the Iraqis will only agree to grant her permission to enter their countries if all of the necessary paperwork and permits have already been agreed and issued.

This, the source said, was dependent on the Syrian authorities issuing documents required. Because of Smith’s history with Isis and the state of collapse Syria is in, very long delays are “not unexpected”, the source said.

Once handed over to Irish personnel, it is likely Smith and her child would be driven to an international airport and then flown to Ireland on a commercial flight.

Rescue mission

It is highly unlikely that Irish soldiers would enter Syria to extract Smith, say informed sources, adding that the ICRC is the internationally mandated agency to lead the first part of the rescue mission.

Direct intervention, of sorts, by the Defence Forces is not without precedent. However, it is highly unlikely in this case.

In 2011 when Muammar Gaddafi was ousted from power in Libya and that country fell into chaos, Defence Forces personnel extracted Irish citizens in a mission that involved the Air Corps and the Army Ranger Wing.

Back then, the Irish personnel based themselves in Malta; the Air Corps personnel staying in hotels and the Army Ranger Wing staying in the British embassy.

They ran flights to Tripoli in a Cessna aircraft, which was suited to landing in difficult conditions and took Irish and British citizens back to Malta. They were medically examined in Malta before being flown on the Government jet back to Ireland.

Unlike in the Lisa Smith case, the use of the Government jet was not met with any opposition from the Irish public.

During that evacuation from Libya, the Defence Forces and the British military worked very closely, the Air Corps taking some British citizens as well as the Irish out of Tripoli and the British reciprocating.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times