Irish Ex-Soldier Who Married ISIS Fighter Is Arrested

Lisa Smith, 38, and her 2-year-old daughter were deported by Turkey from a Syrian displacement camp and landed in Dublin on Sunday.

Lisa Smith, with a pink blanket over her head, leaving a Turkish Airlines plane at Dublin Airport.Credit...Eamonn Farrell/

By Ed O’Loughlin

  • Dec. 1, 2019Updated 4:14 p.m. ET

DUBLIN — A former Irish soldier who converted to Islam, traveled to Syria to join the Islamic State and married a British jihadi fighter, was arrested at Dublin Airport on Sunday for questioning about possible terrorism crimes, having been deported from Turkey.

The former soldier, Lisa Smith, 38, was deported with her 2-year-old daughter on a Turkish Airlines flight with the cooperation of the Irish government, after she had been detained by Turkish forces during their recent incursion into Syria.

A small number of Irish diplomatic personnel and a contingent from the Irish Army’s elite Ranger Wing flew to Turkey to escort Ms. Smith and her daughter home. They were met at the steps of the plane by detectives from the police section that is responsible for internal security affairs in Ireland.

Photographs showed a woman descending the steps, her face hidden by a pink blanket. Ms. Smith was questioned at a police station in the south of Dublin, according to the authorities.

Several European governments have resisted the repatriation of citizens who joined the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, because of the potential security risk. But Dublin has said it accepted the right of Ms. Smith and her daughter — an Irish citizen by virtue of her mother’s nationality — to return to Ireland.

Around 30 Irish citizens traveled to the Middle East as jihadis, Irish newspapers reported, and most of those are believed to have been killed or have moved elsewhere. Ms. Smith and her daughter were discovered living in the Ain Issa refugee camp this year.

The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs said on Saturday that all Irish citizens who were in distress or danger overseas were entitled to consular help.

“We first became aware in March of the presence of Lisa Smith and her child in a detention camp in Syria, where the conditions were extremely poor,” the department said. “UNICEF warned governments that conditions for children there were dire, with an extremely worrying child mortality rate.”

“Of primary concern to the government in this case was the welfare of a young child who was caught in the middle of a war zone,” the department added.

Ms. Smith joined the Irish Defense Forces as a young infantry recruit and transferred five years later to the air corps, where she worked for another five years as a flight attendant on the official government jet, assisting government ministers including Bertie Ahern, then the prime minister.

She converted to Islam in 2011 while still serving in the Irish Defense Forces. She resigned that year, shortly after giving a newspaper interview about her decision to convert, saying she had become disillusioned with a lifestyle of drink, drugs and partying.

She is believed to have traveled to Syria around 2015, despite being on a police watch list as a potential Islamist radical. She married a British jihadi and conceived their daughter. The father is believed to have been killed in the fighting in Syria. Her daughter is now in the care of Ms. Smith’s relatives in her native town, Dundalk.

After she traveled to Syria, she reappeared this year with her infant daughter at a Kurdish-controlled displacement camp for wives and children of Islamic State fighters. Interviewed there by a BBC journalist, she said that she wanted to return to Ireland and denied having used her weapons training on behalf of ISIS or having been involved in any acts of violence or terrorism.

“If you asked me am I going to hurt anyone? No,” she said. “Have I any intentions to do anything? No. I’m just interested in trying to bring my daughter up and get her educated. I don’t even think I’m radicalized. All I know is I just came to an Islamic State and I failed.”

Under Irish law, citizens can, in principle, be prosecuted for terror offenses committed abroad, but strong evidence would have to be produced linking the defendant to specific crimes. In the BBC interview, she denied a report that she had trained girls to become ISIS fighters, saying she never picked up a gun while in Syria.

“Even if I wanted to go fighting, I tried to go fighting, they wouldn’t let me,” she said.

The Irish police said in a statement said that Ms. Smith had been arrested under a catchall provision that is generally used to hold and question people suspected of internal subversion or terrorist activity.

In contrast to Ireland, Britain has taken a harder stance on returning ISIS fighters or adult relatives. It has stripped the citizenship of Shamima Begum, 20, who ran away at the age of 15 to join ISIS in Syria and had three children — all of whom died. The government said she would never be allowed to return to Britain.

But last month, Britain allowed several unaccompanied children of Britons to be repatriated from former Islamic State territory in Syria.

Last month, a federal judge in the United States ruled that Hoda Muthana, an American-born woman who joined the Islamic State in 2014, is not an American citizen, blocking her wish to return home to her family in Alabama.