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Lisa Smith weeps as she gets 15 months for Islamic State membership

Lisa Smith weeps as she gets 15 months for Islamic State membership

Former soldier Lisa Smith, who was found guilty of being a member of the so-called Islamic State group, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison.

She is the first person to be convicted in an Irish court of an Islamic terrorist offence committed abroad.

Smith, dressed in a hijab, turned her back on the body of the court and could be seen wiping away tears when the sentence was revealed. Mr Justice Tony Hunt also refused to release her on bail. 

Her lawyers asked for her to be released as they prepare an appeal against her conviction. During a previous hearing they had asked the court not to send Smith to jail and to consider a wholly suspended sentence.

Mr Justice Hunt did not suspend any portion of the sentence and noted that while Smith is a low risk for re-offending, she was persistent and determined in her efforts to travel to Syria and join Isis and has shown no remorse for her actions.

Sentencing

The maximum sentence for membership of a terrorist group is eight years in prison. Mr Justice Hunt said the court had to give Smith the benefit of the doubt and said there is no evidence that she did more than ally herself with Isis. 

He set her offence at the lower end of the scale but noted that “it is nonetheless serious” for an Irish citizen to take up allegiance with a terrorist organisation and persist with it. He said there was evidence that she followed rather than led but she also knew the nature of the terrorist organisation and considered its objectives.

He added that “she may have been easily led by circumstances and other people” but she had also shown resilience and determination to join and remain with Isis “to the bitter end”. She had rejected her family and one of her husbands, who refused to swear allegiance to Isis, and had aligned herself with terrorists such as John Georgelas, an American Isis fighter and propagandist who was killed during fighting in Syria.

Having set the headline sentence at two years and six months, Mr Justice Hunt said mitigating factors include her previous good character and her positive contribution to society through her military service. He said she had a difficult time in Syria before being brought back to Ireland in December 2019 but added that this was a “foreseeable consequence of her choice to attach herself to Isis”.

Mr Justice Hunt also noted that she suffered domestic violence from the man she married while in Syria in 2015 and that the birth of her daughter has created a significant change in her personal circumstances.

Former soldier Lisa Smith went to Syria in 2015 after terrorist leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi called on Muslims to travel to the country. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA
Former soldier Lisa Smith went to Syria in 2015 after terrorist leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi called on Muslims to travel to the country. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA

He said she has been of good behaviour since returning to Ireland and there is no suggestion that she is a source of present or future danger. He added: “In future her focus will be her daughter, therefore the likelihood of re-offending is low.”

Her time in Syria was “arduous”, he said, and he noted that her lawyers had argued that she should be given credit for the time she spent in refugee camps and for the time she has spent under curfew in Ireland since she was released on bail in early 2020.

But the judge found that her crime warrants a prison term to underline the seriousness of the offence and to deter others from offering concrete support to dangerous organisations.

Considering all factors, he reduced the headline sentence by 50%, to 15 months. Her sentence was backdated by one month to take into account time she spent in custody following her arrest in December 2019.

Michael O’Higgins SC, for Smith, asked the court to release his client on bail pending an appeal but Mr Justice Hunt said there was no basis for a bail application and the matter is now in the hands of the Court of Appeal.

Smith (40) from Dundalk, Co. Louth, had pleaded not guilty to membership of an unlawful terrorist group, Islamic State, between October 28, 2015, and December 1, 2019. The mother-of-one was convicted of Isis membership following a trial at the three-judge, non-jury Special Criminal Court earlier this year.

The court found Smith not guilty of a second charge of funding terrorism, saying that it is reasonably possible that she sent €800 to Isis fighter and propagandist, John Georgelas, in May 2015 for his personal use or for “humanitarian reasons”, after he had been injured during fighting in Syria.

Smith, a convert to Islam, went to Syria in 2015 after terrorist leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi called on Muslims to travel to the country.

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