Gardaí investigated Lisa Smith for training and recruiting people to ISIS

Lisa Smith

Lisa Smith arriving at the Special Criminal Court. Photo: Collins Photo Agency

Lisa Smith with a rifle

thumbnail: Lisa Smith
thumbnail: Lisa Smith arriving at the Special Criminal Court. Photo: Collins Photo Agency
thumbnail: Lisa Smith with a rifle
Robin Schiller

Gardaí investigated Lisa Smith for training and recruiting people to ISIS as well as funding its propaganda campaign as she awaited trial before the Special Criminal Court.

Detectives also uncovered chats with an ISIS recruiter in which money and funding were mentioned 30 times in several months while messages of her joking about terror attacks were also discovered.

Yesterday she was convicted of ISIS membership but found not guilty of trying to send €800 to finance the terror group.

The garda inquiry focused on her activities while living in Ireland, her interactions with jihadists online, and what her involvement was with the terror group while in its territory.

As part of their investigation gardaí attached to the Special Detective Unit (SDU) combed through her financial transactions between 2013 and 2017, uncovering a string of money transfers to John Georgelas, a top ISIS recruiter. These included sums amounting to €300 sent in June 2013 as well as a further €50 transferred two months later.

In an affidavit to the district court to obtain her Facebook communications, gardaí said that Smith engaged in transactions with “persons in different jurisdictions linked to terror acts associated with ISIS”.

They also alleged she was “involved in a network which involved known terrorists”.

There had also been an attempt to pay another individual €800 in May 2015, which was to be passed on to Georgelas, but this transaction was cancelled by authorities.

Georgelas, also known by his Arabic nickname Yahya Abu Hassan, had been injured in a bomb blast the previous year, and gardaí believed the money was to help get him back on his feet and operational again. He had requested Smith send him €2,000 prior to the failed Western Union transfer.

Smith also sent smaller sums to her third husband, a Tunisian al-Qa’ida affiliate, and $70 via a Bank of Ireland transfer to convicted ISIS fundraiser Isa Kocoglu who was based in Australia.

Gardaí also suspected that the money sent to Kocoglu was being sent onwards to Georgelas “for the purpose of terrorist propaganda” with the funds used to run his servers and websites. In 2016, Georgelas was placed on an Interpol Red Notice and sought for three terror offences and is presumed to have died in a 2017 bombing.

An analysis of Smith’s communications also found that she republished “propaganda material” made by Australian convert Robert ‘Musa’ Cerantonio, a high-profile ISIS preacher.

This included sharing a video in 2015 containing a lecture by Cerantonio, with Smith writing on Facebook that she “enjoyed this video”.

In their application for a warrant to secure her social media messages, gardaí also said Smith was being investigated for offences of “training and recruitment of terrorism”.

They said that “Georgelas recruited her to join ISIS and facilitated her travel to Syria” in 2013.

A review of her social media messages also showed the extremely violent videos that were shared, justified and even joked about inside the online groups.

The pair began discussing his strategy, her husband’s reluctance to pledge loyalty to the Islamic State, and the execution of Iraqi soldiers.

She also called for Muslims to “unite” and “fight the enemies”, and justified a Jordanian pilot being burnt alive in a cage.

In mid-2015 a Telegram group called Ghreb was set up showing videos of people drowning in cages and rockets being fired at civilians.

There were also discussions about the Tunisian terror attack in 2015, with Smith commenting underneath an article on the atrocity: “Bye bye tourism hhh”, which the court took to mean “Hahaha”.

In another exchange, Georgelas wrote to her: “Yeah it’s always nice sitting down with neighbours, drinking shay and watching be-heading videos with their children”.

Smith’s response to this message was “no thanks men will be men” followed by a crying laughing emoji.

Towards the end of 2015 she had been radicalised to such an extent that Georgelas convinced her the caliphate was legitimate, and that she should leave her life in Ireland to join ISIS. She did, and her transformation from a Western woman to a member of the terror group was completed. The Special Criminal Court rejected any suggestion that she didn’t know what she was getting into.

American authorities also conducted their own investigation and found that money was mentioned 22 times and funding five times between Smith and Georgelas in a two-month period in 2015.

The conversations also showed that at times certain matters should not be discussed on Facebook but instead on encrypted Telegram groups. The non-court found this in itself was “telling”.

FBI agents who interviewed Smith on three occasions also said it was “beyond suspicion” that she had joined the terror group.

They also suspected she was recruited to train members of the Khatibah, an all-female ISIS battalion operating in Syria.

However, Smith was never prosecuted for training or recruiting members for the terror organisation.

Instead gardaí brought charges against her for ISIS membership and attempting to finance the organisation in May 2015 before she travelled to Syria.

In one message to her family in October 2015, she said: “I give Bay’ah and now I stay”. This Islamic terminology of an oath, the prosecution alleged, was a declared statement to allegiance to ISIS.

She spent the first six months of her time in Syria in a Madaffa (women’s boarding house) before being rescued from it by Georgelas, showing his standing in the group.

In June 2016 she married her fourth husband, British-Pakistani Sajid Aslam, described as a “dedicated terrorist” who carried out border patrols for ISIS.

The last time she saw Aslam was when he put her and their daughter onto a truck as they fled Hajin, before ending up in town of Baghouz along the Iraqi border. She continued to flee with other Muhajirin, or foreign recruits, before eventually being captured by Kurdish forces.

The prosecution contended that by emigrating to Syria and ISIS territory she pledged allegiance to the terror group, as well as providing sustenance and vitality to its organisation by feeding and sheltering her ISIS fighter husband and bearing a child within the Islamic State.

The Special Criminal Court agreed, and yesterday found that she was a member of the terror group, making her the first Irish person to be convicted of ISIS membership.