Thursday 18 April 2019

Ian O'Doherty: 'Nobody in their right mind wants Isil bride Smith back but - unfortunately for the taxpayer - we can't stop her'

Lisa Smith. Photo: Norma Costello
Lisa Smith. Photo: Norma Costello
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

When footage first emerged last month of Irish woman Lisa Smith caught up in a refugee camp for so-called Isil brides on the Syrian/Iraqi border, most observers were surprised, but few were shocked.

The comforting myth that Irish people would have no truck with the genocidal, religious fascists had, by that stage, long been debunked.

Whether it was Dublin man Khalid Kelly - known to his former neighbours as 'Taliban Terry' - who blew himself up in a failed roadside attack or, more recently, the case of Belarusian native Alexandr Ruzmatovich Bekmirzaev, who became a naturalised Irish citizen in 2010, public awareness of the issue of Irish-based people joining Isil has grown.

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In Smith's case, however, the situation is far more complicated, and in a quite extraordinary interview published on Sunday, she certainly did her claims for immediate repatriation to her country of birth no favours.

During the interview, which was conducted in the now-notorious Al-Hawl refugee camp, former soldier Smith seemed to veer between a sense of superficial repentance and a strident defensiveness about her actions in the first place.

It was a wildly contradictory interview, which at least is in keeping with her first interview with ITN in March, when she seemed to suggest that her biggest regret wasn't so much the fact that she had joined Isil in the first place, but that Isil had lost.

Since that first public appearance five weeks ago, Smith has become a hot-­button topic in her native country, and the opinions surrounding her have varied from the cautiously sympathetic to outright hostility. Her most recent remarks are unlikely to soften the public attitude towards her plight.

In trying to defend herself and her actions, which may be most charitably characterised as foolhardy in the extreme, she admitted to yearning for an Islamic paradise ruled by the strictest possible interpretation of Sharia law.

In the caliphate, she repeated once more, there was only religious devotion and she made the bizarre claim that life under Isil was just like life at home: "Get up in the morning, go shopping, get your dinner... Go visit a friend, drink some coffee," before adding: "This is what we came for, you know. We came for, like, no alcohol... no prostitution, no gays, no anything like that."

In much the same way that UK Isil bride Shamima Begum initially gave defiant interviews before deciding to take a more conciliatory approach by claiming to have been "brainwashed" and has portrayed herself as the victim of a slick indoctrination campaign, Smith has decided to play on the nation's heartstrings by portraying herself as nothing more than a gullible fool who has always been easily led.

Smith's justification for her actions was: "I just ran with the crowd like I always do. Ask my mum. I run with the crowd all the time. And that's what I did. I didn't listen to anyone."

As Michael Murphy, a retired lieutenant colonel and former deputy director of military intelligence, asked yesterday: "Who are 'the crowd', where was that crowd, are there other people in Ireland that left at the same time, or did she leave individually at that time?"

Frankly, on the basis of her public utterances since her discovery, expecting Smith to tell the truth already seems a forlorn task.

She has consistently dissembled and obfuscated, and seems to think that the public is as gullible as she claims to have been.

Her claim that she was never actually a fighter, while hard to prove or disprove, is both irrelevant and stretches credulity.

Claiming on the one hand to have never owned a gun while there, she also admits to attending at least one weapons training class which "reminded me of everything I used to know".

She also claims that her second husband wasn't a fighter, although she acknowledges that he did attend a sniper's training course and spent time away from her.

Smith's case is problematic for a number of reasons, not least of them the fact that she constantly contradicts her own claims and seems to have mixed feelings about her decision to join.

Inevitably, and understandably, there have been calls for her citizenship to be revoked and for her to be denied any return to this country.

As compelling as that argument may seem, unfortunately it doesn't stand up to international law.

Unlike Shamima Begum, with whom her case has been compared, she doesn't have dual nationality and it should be remembered that the decision by UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid to revoke Begum's citizenship will probably be overturned on appeal.

Sympathy may be in short supply for Smith, but whether we like it or not, there is no legal mechanism to prevent her returning here.

That may stick in the craw, and whatever reception awaits any eventual return remains open to speculation, but this is a tough call for the Government.

Initial reports that it was considering the Government jet to bring her back were quickly dismissed, and contrary to the wild social media speculation, it's unlikely she will be appearing on the 'Late Late Show' any time soon.

But while we may have to accept that there is no alternative, Mr Murphy was surely correct when he pointed out that she had made her own way there and it is now up to her to make her return, rather than wasting taxpayers' money on repatriating her.

It should not be forgotten, after all, that Ireland is one of the many countries to have been openly threatened by Isil.

This also embarrasses the Government on another matter - its failure to ratify the 2017 EU directive that anyone travelling to Isil territory was automatically committing a crime.

That, in itself, has brought its own problems - such as the prosecution of several English men who fought alongside the Kurds against Isil. But at least it provides some sort of framework to sanction those who joined Isil.

But even if she does return, that will only be the start of the problems. After all, Isil has promised to send sleeper cells back to the West, and as she chillingly admitted on Sunday: "You never know, maybe something is going to happen, maybe the Islamic State will rise again in another area."

Hardly the words of someone who genuinely regrets her decision.

Nobody in their right mind wants this woman back, and she will cost a small fortune in surveillance when she returns.

But international law is international law.

And, unfortunately, it looks like we will just have to take this one on the chin.

Irish Independent

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