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Monday 21 October 2019

'Going to Syria not a crime, so she can come home with her child' - Varadkar

Leo Varadkar said Lisa Smith would face an interrogation. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Leo Varadkar said Lisa Smith would face an interrogation. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Travelling to Syria is not a crime in itself, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

He has confirmed the Irishwoman detained in Syria on suspicion of Isil membership will be allowed to return home because it is the "compassionate thing" to do, he added.

Mr Varadkar has moved to assure the public that a full security assessment will take place before Lisa Smith is allowed back into the country.

But he said that, as an Irish citizen, she will not be left to fend for herself in one of the world's worst war-torn regions.

At the weekend, the Irish Independent revealed the extraordinary story of Ms Smith, who was a member of the Irish Defence Forces before converting to Islam and emigrating to Syria.

Following the death of her husband, whom she met abroad, the 37-year-old now wants to return to Ireland with her two-year-old child.

Mr Varadkar said the case would have to be treated on its own merits but it was the policy of the Government not to revoke citizenship without good reason.

"Going to Syria, or going to live in what was called Islamic State, is not in itself an offence or a crime. So we will need to carry out an investigation.

"I know the authorities there will want to interrogate her to see if she has been involved in any crimes there. But it's very possible that she wasn't a combatant," the Taoiseach said.

Irish officials are in contact with US authorities who, along with Kurdish forces, are believed to be holding Ms Smith in northern Syria.

Syrian authorities are expected to carry out a security assessment to see if they will seek to prosecute the Dundalk native for Isil membership.

"But ultimately this is an Irish citizen and we don't believe that removing an Irish citizen's citizenship from her or her family, rendering them stateless, would be either the right or compassionate thing to do," Mr Varadkar said. "As an Irish citizen, she will have the right to return to Ireland, as will her child. But as an Irish citizen, it's not just as simple as coming here and proceeding as if nothing had happened."

Asked whether there was a legal basis for prosecuting Ms Smith here, the Taoiseach said it would depend on what happens in Syria first. "There may need to be a prosecution there. And we'll make sure that if she returns to Ireland, she isn't a threat to anybody here either."

Irish Independent

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