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Monday 19 August 2019

How Army veteran and Dundalk mum Lisa Smith came to be uncovered as she fled with son

Dundalk mum claimed to be a Briton escaping war-torn Syria but her accent gave her away, writes Wayne O'Connor

Lisa Smith
Lisa Smith
Innocent: Lisa Smith making her First Communion. Picture:
Lisa gives an interview from a camp in Syria claiming to be a British woman
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

Visits to refugee camps are routine for journalists stationed in Syria or near its borders. Rarely do they meet women who are willing and able to speak in English about life under Isil's control.

When these women speak, the interviews are pored over in the West for new insights into how and why they sacrificed Western freedoms to live under Isil's restrictive regime.

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Last week, a Syrian freelance journalist carried out a series of interviews in a makeshift camp with refugees fleeing Isil's final stronghold, Baghuz.

Among them was a woman with her few belongings in small bags. She was carrying her young son who innocently babbled in the background throughout the interview.

Dressed in a black headscarf, her face covered, the woman told the journalist her name was Umrah Kia. However, her family say she is Lisa Smith (37), a former member of the Defence Forces. "We knew by the voice it was her," a relative said.

She spoke Arabic and English but had a Western accent and identified herself as British. Because of this claim, footage of the six-minute interview made its way to ITV's London studios where producers recognised her accent as Irish.

Lisa Smith
Lisa Smith

They released the footage last Sunday with a warning. Viewers were told it was difficult to verify if the woman was who she claimed to be, and ITV News security editor Rohit Kachroo made viewers aware her accent was Irish.

ITV ran snippets of the footage recounting her tale of fleeing Isil's final bastion. She painted a bleak picture of Baghuz. "The people don't have food. They're struggling for food and money and everything is expensive, so I don't know how they're going to keep living," she said.

"They're tired. Morale is low, I suppose. Some are strong but it's like any roller coaster for people. Some want to be [there], some don't want to be [there]. Some are hungry, some are not hungry."

She said she had converted to Islam seven years ago before being tempted to Syria by Isil's propaganda.

She hinted at not getting the life she wanted. "You come and see the propaganda, the videos. You want Islam. You want to come, you want to live in a Muslim country, a Muslim environment. No music, no smoking, no drinking, no prostitution - anything like this. You want clean - a clean life like this. This is what you want but sometimes it is not like this."

She travelled to Syria alone but met a man and eventually married him. She claimed that he was British and died two months ago.

Isil has been under relentless pressure in recent weeks, but the woman seemed determined it would remain undefeated. Speaking in Arabic at the end of the interview, she says: "It's not over. It's not over yet."

Sunday Independent

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