Lisa Smith was earlier found not guilty of attempting to finance so-called Islamic State. Picture: Collins Courts
Lisa Smith has been found guilty by the non-jury Special Criminal Court of so-called Islamic State membership.
Ex-Defence Forces member Lisa Smith, 40, was acquitted of a separate charge of financing terrorism after a nine-week trial at the non-jury Special Criminal Court.
Smith, a convert to Islam, travelled to Syria after terrorist leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi called on Muslims to travel to the country.
Mr Justice Hunt spent 90 mins returning today’s judgement, where he rejected Smith’s claims that she had gone to the Islamic State simply out of a sense of religious obligation and for the innocent purpose of living under Sharia law and raising a family in a Muslim state.
The judge noted that religion is “irrelevant to membership of Isis” as criminal activity cannot be justified by religious obligation. He said that a person would not gain immunity for arson, assault or murder because he believed he had a religious obligation to persecute witches.
The Co. Louth woman had pleaded not guilty to charges of membership of IS and providing funds to benefit the group.
Smith, from Dundalk, wiped away tears as the guilty verdict of the three-judge court was read out by judge Mr Justice Tony Hunt on Monday.
She was granted bail ahead of sentencing.
Acquitting her of the financing terrorism charge, Justice Hunt said it could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt that when she sent €800 to a man, Isis fighter and propagandist John Georgelas, in 2015 it was specifically for the purpose of supporting Isis.
He said there was “sufficient ambiguity” over why the money was sent, highlighting that it could have potentially been for charitable or humanitarian reasons.
The former soldier was bailed ahead of a sentencing hearing on Monday, July 11.
Mr Justice Hunt then went through the evidence relating to membership and said that the prosecution had established beyond reasonable doubt that Smith travelled to Syria with her “eyes wide open” and pledged allegiance to the organisation led by terrorist leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
He rejected her claims that she had gone simply out of a sense of religious obligation and for the innocent purpose of living under Sharia law and raising a family in a Muslim state. He said that her reasons for going to Syria were “grounded in allegiance to or agreement with the views espoused by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.”
He said there was no “benign” explanation for her travel and no alternative Islamic State that she could have been travelling to. He rejected claims that she was naive or that she was unaware of what Isis was doing and said she “knew full well she was not simply adhering to life under Sharia law”.
Smith (40) from Dundalk, Co. Louth had pleaded not guilty to membership of an unlawful terrorist group, Islamic State, between October 28, 2015, and December 1, 2019. She also pleaded not guilty to financing terrorism by sending €800 in assistance, via a Western Union money transfer, to a named man on May 6, 2015.
In numerous interviews with gardaí after she returned to Ireland in December 2019, she said repeatedly that she travelled to Syria because she believed she had a religious obligation to live inside the Islamic State that was announced by terrorist leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2014.
She denied that she went to join a terrorist organisation. The prosecution alleged that by travelling in answer to a call by al-Baghdadi for all Muslims to come to Syria, Smith joined a terrorist organisation. They said that people like Smith were the “life-blood” of Isis and critical to its mission to spread its version of Islam by violence and murder.
Mr Justice Hunt said that the court accepts that Isis is a terrorist organisation that controlled parts of Syria and Iraq when Smith decided to travel to its territory in late 2015. Isis, he said, did not allow any competing sources of authority in its territory and micromanaged the details of everyday life. An obvious feature, he said, was the “extreme degree of intolerance and the extremity of violence towards apostates and non-believers”.
It also provided protections, benefits and infrastructure to people living there. People like Smith who travelled, or made hijrah, to the Islamic State were given a special status as the organisation wanted to encourage foreigners to join. He added: “In declaring the caliphate al-Baghdadi recognised the difficulties of this step for foreigners and the special responsibility to those who travelled.”
Mr Justice Hunt said that social media messages between Smith and various Isis hardliners, including Georgelas, supported the prosecution’s assertion that she knew what Isis was doing and supported its aims.
He said religion was “irrelevant” as criminal activity cannot be justified by religious obligation. He said that a person would not gain immunity for arson, assault or murder because he believed he had a religious obligation to persecute witches.
Her claim that she believed she would suffer eternal damnation if she did not make hijrah, the court said, appears only to be believed by supporters of Isis and al-Baghdadi’s claims were not accepted by most Muslims. He said it was only a “very small proportion of the worldwide Muslim community” that believed in al-Baghdadi’s caliphate while “the vast majority are in fact repelled by the violence and intolerance”.
He said that Isis’ use of religious language does not convert it into a religion and added: “So the idea of religion is irrelevant to membership of Isis; it cannot justify or validate conduct otherwise shown to be unlawful”.
Going over the evidence, he said Smith converted to Islam in 2011 and became “deeply immersed” in the religion. She travelled to Mecca in 2012 and became active in online discussion groups before travelling to Syria for the first time in 2013 with John Georgelas and his then-wife Tania Joya.
After marrying a terrorist fighter she spent some months in Syria before coming back to Ireland in 2014. Al-Baghdadi’s announcement of the caliphate in 2014 became the subject of intense debate for Smith and her online contacts. In 2015, she returned to Syria having deceived her family and friends by telling them she was going to Tunisia.
The court found that Smith’s interest in the particular version of Islam that she adhered to was not the result of “malign influence” from anyone in Ireland, as was claimed during the trial. He said there was evidence that she had already taken on extreme views before she began speaking to members of a Dundalk mosque in 2011.
Mr Justice Hunt said it was clear from Smith’s online conversations with other jihadists that at this time she was aware of the criminal nature of those exchanges and discussed using more private communications to hide what they were discussing. She watched videos of Isis atrocities, including men being drowned in cages, being fired on using rockets and being shot randomly in Isis-controlled territory. When presented with “blood-thirsty” justifications of those atrocities she “blithely accepted these violent sentiments and opted to continue.”
The court rejected Smith’s lawyers’ claims that her online conversations were polite, civilized and restrained, saying they were offensive and contained examples of sectarian intolerance, homophobia and racism.
He noted her regret that her husband, now living in Tunisia, showed no interest in giving “bay’a” – a pledge of allegiance to al-Baghdadi – and that she told her family she had given bay’a after she moved to Syria. She divorced her husband because he refused to pledge allegiance, he said.
The court found there was evidence that her views were in place prior to the announcement by al-Baghdadi and she knew that his claim of authority over all Muslims was questioned by other Muslims who took issue with the legitimacy of his caliphate.
He described interviews she gave to gardaí and to journalist Norma Costello as “self-serving” and containing much that was not true. He accepted that there is no evidence of her engaging in military activity but said such evidence is not required to prove membership of a terrorist organisation. There are many levels of membership, he said, and Smith had entered a reciprocal relationship with Islamic State, had joined an organisation and was accepted as a member by that organisation.
After delivering the verdict Mr Justice Hunt said he was satisfied that Smith has been on bail for more than two years and has complied with all requirements. He extended her bail ahead of sentencing on July 11.
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