Friday 18 October 2019

The Irish Isil bride: How former member of Defence Forces was captured in Syria on suspicion of supporting Isil

  • I just want to bring Lisa back to Dundalk, says anxious relative of Irish Isil bride

  • Former Air Corps member went to Syria in 2015 and married Isil sympathiser soon after her arrival in war-torn region

Videograb captured by an ITV cameraman of a woman believed to be Lisa Smith giving water to a young child in a camp in Syria
Videograb captured by an ITV cameraman of a woman believed to be Lisa Smith giving water to a young child in a camp in Syria
Ms Smith gives an interview to ITV in Syria this week. Picture: Independent.ie
Innocent: Lisa Smith making her First Communion. Picture: Independent.ie

Kevin Doyle, Robin Schiller and Tom Brady

A former member of the Defence Forces, who served Taoisigh on the Government jet, has been captured in Syria on suspicion of supporting Isil.

Lisa Smith (37), from Dundalk, Co Louth, left Ireland for the war-torn region in 2015 and married an Isil sympathiser who later died.

She was detained along with her two-year-old boy by US forces in northern Syria in recent days.

Ms Smith spent a decade in the Defence Forces, serving as a soldier in the Army for five years before joining the Air Corps.

Lisa Smith pictured living in Dundalk in 2011. Photo: Tom Conachy/Independent.ie
Lisa Smith pictured living in Dundalk in 2011. Photo: Tom Conachy/Independent.ie

She worked as a flight attendant on the Government jet during Bertie Ahern’s time as Taoiseach.

Ms Smith spoke to the Irish Independent about converting to Islam in 2011, revealing she was previously a party girl who “did it all – the drink, drugs, smoking, everything”.

Ms Smith gives an interview to ITV in Syria this week. Picture: Independent.ie
Ms Smith gives an interview to ITV in Syria this week. Picture: Independent.ie

She was last in touch with her family in February, seeking money to get into Turkey.

They contacted the Government for support to bring her home from Syria, where she is being held in a campsite.

Speaking to this newspaper from the family home in Dundalk last night, a relative said: “I just want to get her home.”

The family have also denied she was involved with Isil.

Ms Smith is now likely to be the subject of negotiations between Irish and US governments about what will happen to her from here.

Irish diplomats are expected to travel to Syria in the coming days with the aim of speaking directly with Smith.

Innocent: Lisa Smith making her First Communion. Picture: Independent.ie
Innocent: Lisa Smith making her First Communion. Picture: Independent.ie

Sources indicated that it is likely she will be allowed to return to this country - but she may face prosecution if authorities find any evidence that she actively helped Isil in their war.

It is understood the name on her passport is Lisa Marie Smith but she has posted on social media under different aliases.

She travelled to Syria on her own where she met and married a British man. He is believed to have died around two months ago.

Earlier this week ITV posted a video interview online in which she claimed to British and said Isil's fight is "not over yet".

"You come, you see the propaganda, you want Islam, you want to come and live in Muslim country and environment.

"No music, no smoking, no fighting, no drinking, no prostitution... you want a clean life like this, that is what you want, but sometimes it is not like this," she said.

Read More: From 'party girl' to Muslim housewife in Syrian camp

Relatives of Ms Smith told the Irish Independent that they had been contacted by gardaí last week about the ITV recording.

"They wanted to confirm that was her and we knew by the voice it was her," they said.

One relative, who asked not to be identified, revealed that the family contacted the Taoiseach's office in recent weeks about Ms Smith's plight.

"It was actually his receptionist that put me on to Foreign Affairs. She said she needs an email address, I said she doesn't have one. She needed a phone number, I said she doesn't have one.

"And I said all I know is she's in a camp. And they said we need to get a bit more information in order for us to help her. But I can't be sure. At that stage I had no contact with [her]," the relative said.

The Irish Independent has established that Smith joined the Defence Forces in 2001 and served in a variety of roles over the course of a decade. She was in the 27th Battalion.

During her career she spent two years working with the Air Corps initially as a flight attendant. Her work brought in close contact with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and a host of other government ministers.

She then joined an army transport unit as a private.

The former Catholic is known to have travelled to Syria in 2015 and where it is suspected she was sympathetic to Isil fighters.

Officers from military intelligence and the Garda security and intelligence section have been tracking her movements for the past 18 months but were not certain until recently about her exact whereabouts.

Read More: Kevin Doyle: 'State will likely have to pick up tab to bring Lisa Smith and her son home'

It comes just a fortnight after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Ireland would take back extremists or sympathisers who have travelled to war-torn regions. He said this country shouldn't expect our citizens "to be somebody else's problem".

The Taoiseach said he would be "very loath to revoke anyone's citizenship provided they are a citizen by right or acquired their citizenship appropriately".

"I think it's bad practice to revoke somebody's citizenship and render them stateless and leave them to be somebody's else's problem," he said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs said they are aware of reports of an Irish citizen detained in Northern Syria.

"Appropriate consular assistance is provided to all Irish citizens where it is possible to do so, however we do not comment on individual cases," he said.

In a 2011 interview with the Irish Independent, she described previously hating Muslim: "I'd see them and think: bombers."

However, she got to know some Muslim girls in Dundalk and then through Facebook.

"They seemed so peaceful and content and they never worried about stuff. So I asked one of them for the loan of their Koran.

"I read it and knew straight away it was for me."

At the time she said the Defence Forces were "great support" when she decided to convert but she planned to leave "because my role as a Muslim woman is to be a housewife, or to get a job working with other women".

Gardai and the Defence Forces estimate that a half dozen Irish passport holders are still operating with Isil in Syria.

They reckon that many of the 30 suspects, who left here to join foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq, are now dead.

At the end of December last, Alexandr Ruzmatovich Bekmirzaev, who held an Irish passport and lived here for 13 years up to 2013, was captured by Kurdish fighters in an operation against Isil in Syria.

He was regarded by intelligence officers here as a key member of a back-up logistics support cell for Isil in Dublin and described as a "serious player" despite his claims last month that he was not involved in the fighting.

Irish Independent

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