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Sunday 24 March 2019

Who is Lisa Smith? From 'party girl' to Muslim housewife in Syrian camp

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

Gareth Morgan and Tom Brady

Lisa Smith used to "hate" Muslims and admits: "I'd see them and think: bombers."

But in recent days, she was filmed by ITV having fled the Baghuz region of Syria, insisting that Islamic State's (Isil) struggle was not over yet.

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Lisa was a self-confessed party girl who had tried cannabis and ecstasy as a youngster. She joined the Defence Forces shortly after school, at the age of 19.

She worked as a soldier for five years before joining the Air Corps, and ultimately ended up working for several years on the Government jet.

But while she came from a traditional Catholic background in Dundalk, she was craving something different.

In an interview with journalist Margaret Carragher, published in the Irish Independent eight years ago, she outlined her reasons for converting to Islam and her hopes of leaving her career behind, and finding a husband in the Muslim faith. At the time, she had chosen only to wear the Islamic headscarf, the khimaar, but was planning to wear the hijab and niqab in due course.

"I didn't have much grounding in the Catholic faith. I was looking for answers - why we were here, what was our purpose in life. I just knew we couldn't be on this Earth for no reason," she said at the time.

"I went through the whole spirituality phase, Buddhism and stuff, and nothing was registering. Fairies, angels, reiki, the works - and then I was thinking that there was no god, just a god consciousness.

"The pressure of life got to me. There was so much pressure to look good… and there were no morals, nothing solid. I was all airy-fairy on the outside, but inside I knew there was something wrong."

She met several women in the Muslim community through friends in Dundalk and 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."

She studied the 'Koran' "nearly 24 hours a day" for several months, and formally converted in April 2011.

She acknowledged at the time that her mother believed that her daughter's conversion was "just a phase - although she says it's my choice and that she'll support me even though she doesn't understand why I have to wear a scarf and give up my work".

Lisa elaborated on her plans to change her career, or give it up entirely, "because my role as a Muslim woman is to be a housewife, or to get a job working with other women. Working with men is not a good thing for a Muslim woman".

At the time she was hoping to find a "suitable husband", and was already talking about resigning when her contract expired. It is now known that within a matter of months, she had travelled to Syria.

Certainly by 2015 she is believed to have been in Syria, and is understood to have married a man there.

She is understood to have had connections with Isil, but was thought to be a sympathiser rather than a fighter.

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

A relative last night denied she was involved with Isil, saying they would have known if that was the case.

They said they were trying to bring her home from Syria and that she had been in "some campsite" there.

Lisa's story took another twist earlier this week when a woman wearing a hijab and niqab, purporting to be British but with an Irish accent, was interviewed in Syria by ITV News.

A relative last night confirmed to the Irish Independent that they recognised the young Irishwoman from this video.

"The people don't have food. They're struggling, everything is expensive, so I don't know how they're going to keep living," Smith tells the reporter.

"Morale is low, I suppose. Some are strong, it's like any roller coaster of people. Some want to leave, some don't. Some are hungry, some are not hungry. Some are tired, not tired."

She says her husband, who is British, died two months ago. She claims she came to Syria alone and met him there.

Then, she's asked whether Isil was now over. "Not over yet. Not over yet," she replies.

Lisa told the Irish Independent back in 2011 that "if practised properly, Islam as a religion is brilliant; it sorts out all of mankind's problems".

But she confessed to sometimes missing her old life. "I think every now and then that I'd just like to be out for the night drinking and clubbing and going a bit mad like I used to. But of course I'd never do it," she added.

Irish Independent

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