Sunday 18 August 2019

Martina Devlin: 'Lisa Smith threw in her lot with Islamic State but she remains a citizen of Ireland, no matter how extreme her views. It is time to bring her and her daughter home'

Lisa Smith. Photo: Tom Conachy
Lisa Smith. Photo: Tom Conachy
Martina Devlin

Martina Devlin

Jihadi bride or not, Lisa Smith is our responsibility. She says she want to come home and we should bring her back as soon as possible - citizens cannot be cast adrift.

The question is not whether she should be allowed to return to Ireland, because we have a clear duty to take back the Irishwoman, but what should happen to her once she is here.

Despite life choices most people find unfathomable, she remains one of our own.

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Ms Smith threw in her lot with Islamic State - a barbaric regime that sponsored terrorist operations such as the 2015 Paris attack which killed 130 people, broadcast hostages being beheaded and abducted women for use as sex slaves.

No one can defend that. But in accepting that she was radicalised, we must take the next step and work to de-radicalise her. There is no guarantee of success but we have an obligation to try.

Meanwhile there is a child with rights to Irish citizenship at the heart of this situation. If we turn away Ms Smith we abandon her two-year-old daughter. The little girl is innocent - she cannot be sacrificed.

The child is entitled to citizenship and the State's protection. To reclaim the little girl from her jihadist heritage we must take back the mother.

Following the collapse of Islamic State, the pair are being held with other wives and children of jihadists in a refugee camp in war-ravaged Syria where conditions look hellish.

But before Ms Smith can be deported - provided the Syrians do not intend to press charges - a security assessment needs to be conducted about the threat level she poses.

This is not for the purposes of keeping her out of Ireland, but for deciding on the monitoring she'll require following her return. That evaluation has to be carried out before she is returned so that protections can be put in place for citizens here.

There are risks. Perhaps Ms Smith will settle back into her hometown of Dundalk, live quietly, raise her child - and perhaps she'll remain a security threat.

The caliphate is gone but its surviving supporters may regroup and target the 'decadent' West. Will they contact her for help?

There are multiple what-ifs with this case, a need to weigh probabilities and take preventative action.

What we can say for certain is that if Ms Smith returns to Ireland, she will represent a security threat and need to be kept under 24/7 surveillance at an estimated cost of €1m a year. She'll gobble up resources. Even so, it's a cost we must bear because we can't write off a child.

Supposing we say no. You're not wanted Lisa Smith, nor is your daughter. How does that reflect on our values which we argue are more humane than the Islamic State caliphate's? Where is the prospect for rehabilitation?

Some things we know for certain about Ms Smith, formerly Corporal Smith of the Irish Defence Forces, and some things we cannot know.

Principally, we don't know if she constitutes a threat to the State, partly because there is an information gap about her movements in the Islamic State.

Elements of her recent past need further investigation and we may not get all the answers we require. We don't know if she was an Islamic State combatant. We don't know if she gave weapons training to others.

We don't know if she transferred money to help finance the caliphate, carved by war out of Syria and Iraq and operating under strict Sharia law such as amputation for theft and stoning to death for adultery.

She says she didn't do anything - but it's in her interests to repudiate wrongdoing. She is an extremist. Her blanket denials are not credible.

Here are some of the things we do know. She had weapons training and military expertise as a member of Ireland's defence forces.

She was radicalised online and put on a watch list before leaving Ireland in 2014 or 2015. She went voluntarily to the caliphate. And her fighter husband was killed defending it.

Reports indicate the authorities here are keen to speak to the CIA about her and receive an intelligence briefing. Perhaps they have been briefed already. Any information shared hasn't been made public.

The footage of her shot at Ain Issa camp, with an interview conducted for RTÉ by Norma Costello, tell us this 37-year-old woman is tough and resilient. But children are vulnerable and a small girl entitled to citizenship, with an Irish mother, grandparents and other relatives, must surely be at risk in such a setting.

How would we feel if anything happened to her during delays to repatriate Ms Smith?

It is in the best interests of the child to bring her here - to give her a chance in life. Poor choices made by her mother can't be held against her.

It is also in the little girl's best interests to keep her with her mother. So, we need to find a way to make that happen while also safeguarding the population.

Ms Smith sounded hostile in the interview. The best she can say, while not renouncing her ideology, is it wasn't worth it. But would crocodile tears make us feel better?

Also, we should bear in mind appalling living conditions in the Kurdish-controlled camp, as well as the bombing she underwent while the caliphate was under air strike.

Once she returns, she cannot expect to slip into anonymity. She will be interviewed extensively by gardaí, monitored for years, her freedom of movement and association restricted.

Leaders of the Irish Muslim community should be involved in the deradicalisation process and say they are willing to cooperate.

Greater attention must be paid to the ways in which radicalisation happens online and the use of social media to recruit and indoctrinate. The internet has sinister nooks and crannies.

Fundamentally, it is wrong to say she made her bed so let her lie on it. What happened to Ms Smith in the Air Corps that sent her online in search of some sense of belonging? Were there pressures she found difficult to handle and if so why weren't her struggles detected by a commanding officer?

She has spoken of looking for meaning which led her to the Koran and her conversion to Islam in 2011 while still in the Defence Forces.

Leo Varadkar says he wants the two to come to Ireland, but that neither military personnel nor diplomats should be put in danger. This is right and proper. Even so, we should crack on. Two citizens are trapped and in need, regardless of how they reached that point.

Finally, we should forgive Lisa Smith - forgive but not forget, because we can't afford to; vigilance is the price we pay and close scrutiny the price she pays. So be it.

Now let's bring mother and daughter home.

Irish Independent

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