Ex-soldier Lisa Smith married a member of al Qaida while in Syria, court hears

The Co Louth woman, 39, has pleaded not guilty to terror-related charges at the Special Criminal Court.

James Ward
Thursday 27 January 2022 14:37
Former member of the Defence Forces Lisa Smith arriving at the Special Criminal Court in Dublin where she is facing terror-related charges (Brian Lawless/PA)
Former member of the Defence Forces Lisa Smith arriving at the Special Criminal Court in Dublin where she is facing terror-related charges (Brian Lawless/PA)

Former Defence Forces soldier Lisa Smith married a member of al Qaida and stayed in a “bombed-out” house where militia and rebels held meetings when she was in Syria her trial has heard.

The Co Louth woman, 39, has pleaded not guilty to charges of membership of the illegal organisation, the so-called Islamic State, and of providing funds to benefit the group.

Giving evidence on Thursday, Tanya Joya told the Special Criminal Court that she and her then-husband John Georgealis had met the accused through his Islamic Facebook group We Hear, We Obey.

Lisa Marie wanted to go to Syria. She was determined, it was her goal

Tanya Joya

Ms Joya, originally from London, was born a Muslim and said she had become “radicalised” after the September 11 terror attacks in 2001.

She met Mr Georgealis, a US man who converted to Islam, online and the pair subsequently married, and travelled to numerous Muslim countries.

They met Smith in Turkey in 2013, but crossed the border into Syria when they were unable to find housing due to an influx of refugees into the country.

Ms Joya told the court that Ms Smith was “excited” to be in Syria, and that she had told her she was planning to die there and become a martyr.

She told the court she was initially happy to meet Smith because she “seemed nice” and was able to help her with her four children.

But she said that shortly after Smith arrived in Turkey “it got a bit ugly”.

She said: “She wanted to go to Syria.

“All Muslims felt an obligation to help the rebels, because they were being oppressed.

“They were brainwashed into thinking if you became a martyr you get to go to paradise.

“Who wouldn’t want that?”

Ms Joya said they had respected Smith “because she had training in the army”, and “she wanted to hep the rebels”.

She added: “Lisa Marie wanted to go to Syria.

“She was determined, it was her goal.

“I was opposed to it because I was afraid.

“I didn’t want to go into a warzone with my kids.”

The court heard that while Ms Joya was fearful about the war, her husband and Smith would “crack jokes about how close we were to Syria”.

She said the trip “wasn’t planned”, but because they were unable to get housing in Turkey they had taken an overnight bus into Syria.

“John promised it was only for a couple of weeks. We stayed in a building that was bombed out, it was owned by a Syrian general,” she said.

Ms Joya said the house had no electricity, the windows had been smashed, there were bullet holes in the walls and that it was “very dirty”.

She added: “It was where the militia, the rebels had meetings.

People entering the country would stay there.”

She said they had stayed there for one week, before they went to stay “with a really fanatical Syrian warman” at another location.

Lisa Smith, accused of terrorism offences, arrives at the Special Criminal Court in Dublin. (Niall Carson/PA)

It was here that Smith met a Tunisian man named Ahmed, a member of al Qaida, who she wanted to marry.

Ms Joya told the court that she had advised Smith to marry for her own protection.

However, she said she was opposed to her marrying Ahmed because they did not know each other or speak the same language.

“I didn’t like it that Lisa Marie wanted to marry Ahmed.

“I thought it was batsh*t crazy” she said.

She said of Smith that “everyone loved her”, while Ahmed was “handsome and charming.”

Asked why she thought Smith wanted to marry him, Ms Joya replied: “Because he was hot, that’s why.

“And he was a fighter.”

“She didn’t know him, but he had a cute smile and he was very shy,” she added.

Ms Joya told the court the pair got married in Syria, but that she had refused to attend.

“She knew I thought it was ridiculous. She didn’t care. To her I wasn’t a good Muslim, and I wasn’t. I didn’t want to be a Muslim,” she said.

Ms Joya told the court that around this time she got her hands on a “burner” mobile phone, called her husband’s mother and told her to report him to the FBI.

She made plans to leave Syria and Smith asked her if she planned to tell the authorities about her.

“I said yes, I had to,” Ms Joya told the court.

“She just shrugged.

“She didn’t argue with me.

“She knew I was going to do what I had to do.”

She said Smith had blocked her on Facebook after that conversation.

She said the accused stayed in Syria when she made her journey back to the UK, and then to the US.

“She (Smith) was not going to leave. It was never her intention to leave. I didn’t care.

“It was like, good riddance. I just wanted to look after my kids,” she said.

Ms Joya told told the court she believed Smith had been “indoctrinated”.

“She was told what to think.

“She obeyed because she believed in God” she added.

The case received widespread attention in 2019 when it emerged that Smith, a former Air Corps soldier who had worked on the Government jet, had been detained in Syria over alleged links to IS.

Smith was arrested at Dublin Airport in 2019 on suspicion of terrorist offences after returning from Turkey in November with her young daughter.

She had travelled to Syria a number of years ago after she converted to Islam.

Former member of the Defence Forces Lisa Smith arriving at the Special Criminal Court in Dublin where she is facing terror-related charges (Niall Carson/PA)

Smith is charged under Section Six of the Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Act 2005 which makes it an offence to join a foreign unlawful organisation.

It is alleged that between October 28 2015 and December 1 2019 at a location outside the State, she was a member of a terrorist group styling itself as the Islamic State.

She has also been accused of financing terrorism by sending 800 euro (£670) in assistance by Western Union money transfer to a named individual in 2015.

The trial will resume at 10.30am on Friday.

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