Wednesday 21 August 2019

Declan Power: 'If the Government was serious on Lisa Smith issue, it would have sent in forces'


In limbo: Lisa Smith and her daughter are stranded, but her case is a political hot potato, and that may explain the inaction. Photo: Norma Costello
In limbo: Lisa Smith and her daughter are stranded, but her case is a political hot potato, and that may explain the inaction. Photo: Norma Costello

Declan Power

In her most recent interview with RTÉ, Lisa Smith, the former Air Corps flight steward who left Ireland to voluntarily become a part of Isil, nails the core of this distressing matter.

There has been so much conjecture, confusion and indeed lack of leadership on this matter by the State, that the whole issue has been confused and conflated in all sorts of crazy ways.

The essence of this matter is Smith's own admittance that she became part of Isil, a rogue regime that was listed and condemned as a terrorist entity by both the United Nations and the European Union.

In her admittance, it is clear that she either does not understand or simply does not want to acknowledge that Islamic State (Isil) was not a state like any other and is guilty of having carried out crimes against humanity on a scale similar to the genocides perpetrated in Rwanda or Cambodia.

Most reasoned people would find it impossible to believe Smith is being truthful when she asks us to consider that she had no clue in knowing what Isil stood for when she embarked on a lengthy and difficult journey to become part of this regime.

For some time now in this country we have become consumed as to whether this former member of the Defence Forces was directly involved in the war effort on behalf of Isil. References have been made to Isil documents found that listed her as training young women to handle weapons.

In a past interview with the BBC, Smith herself alluded to statements made by other women at the Al-Hawl refugee camp, where she is being held, that she had instructed them in use of firearms.

But all these things are irrelevant, because if our Government was serious about treating this as an issue of national security, a combined team of appropriate Defence Force and Garda personnel could have been deployed to the Al-Hawl camp to gather intelligence and evidence on the matters mentioned above.

Using the excuse that the area is in a zone of conflict, and that it was too dangerous to send diplomats and therefore no further effort at either information gathering or attempting to remove Smith and her child to a location where she could have been repatriated to Ireland, rings a little hollow.

Exactly 10 years ago, I found myself being seconded from the UN mission in Darfur to work with an Irish team assembled from members of the Defence Forces, the Garda and the Department of Foreign Affairs to resolve the kidnapping of an Irish citizen.

It was a difficult and dangerous set of circumstances to be working in for all concerned. But the matter was concluded successfully with the release of the individual concerned.

In the case of Smith, from a security and a logistics perspective, it would be a much easier operation than the one in Darfur 10 years ago. But from a political perspective it is rife with problems. This, I would argue, is the reason this saga is dragging on the way it has.

The facts of the matter are that we do have the capacity, as we did in Darfur 10 years ago, to deploy personnel capable of operating in volatile and fragile states. If, as a State, we were serious about wanting to gather facts to ascertain as to whether Smith was still a threat to the State, we could be doing that now.

Also, if we were being serious about our humanitarian concerns over Smith's baby daughter, an innocent party to all of this who surely qualifies for the protection of this State, we should be making better efforts to get her out of this region.

We know from media reports the friendly links between Irish and US security forces could have likely facilitated this some time ago with minimum risk to Irish lives.

Which brings us back to all the waffle recently on the airwaves about this being a security issue. Sure there are security issues to be addressed, but this is really a political issue and don't kid yourself thinking otherwise.

We have the means to have gotten both mother and child out. We have the means by which to have commenced appropriate intelligence gathering at source to determine a security threat assessment and evidence gathering and perhaps witness statement taking to determine if Smith is guilty of particular crimes and we, as a State, have ducked those tasks.

Instead, the State is hoping and waiting to see what other European partners are going to do. As a State, we are petrified about being seen as too soft by our neighbours and too hard by the audience at home.

Hence the strong likelihood that if and when Smith returns home, our squeamish State apparatus will make no attempt to charge her for her own admission as to having been part of one of the most odious terrorist regimes the world has seen.

The irony of this is that such inaction will increase insecurity for Smith, her child and all her family, such is the level of public odium that exists for her in Ireland today. It will be the State's responsibility to recognise this and take steps to address it if she returns.

Also, going back to her admissions, it is clear to me from my own experiences working on counter extremism and terrorism projects that this woman, regardless of whether found guilty of crimes, will need to undergo a de-radicalisation programme.

Apart from Dr Umar Al-Qadri, the imam at Blanchardstown mosque, I've heard no one, much less a servant of the State, talk about the preparation or need for this regarding Smith.

Declan Power is an independent security and defence analyst

Irish Independent

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