herald

Tuesday 19 November 2019

'Going to Syria is not a crime' - Leo confirms IS suspect can return

IS suspect Lisa Smith was previously in the Air Corps
IS suspect Lisa Smith was previously in the Air Corps

Travelling to Syria is not a crime in itself, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said, as he confirmed the Irish woman detained in the country on suspicion of Islamic State (IS) membership will be allowed to return.

Mr Varadkar said it was the "compassionate thing" to do.

The Taoiseach has moved to assure the public that a full security assessment will take place before Lisa Smith is allowed back into the country.

However, he said that as an Irish citizen she will not be left to fend for herself in one of the world's war-torn regions.

At the weekend, the Herald revealed the extraordinary story of Smith, who was a member of the Defence Forces before converting to Islam and emigrating to Syria.

Following the death of her husband, whom she met abroad, Smith (37) now wants to return to Ireland with her two-year-old child.

Mr Varadkar said the case would have to be treated on its own merits but said it was the policy of the Government not to revoke citizenship without good reason.

"Going to Syria or going to live in what was called Islamic State is not in itself an offence or a crime, so we will need to carry out an investigation," he said.

"I know the authorities there will want to interrogate her to see if she has been involved in any crimes there. But it's very possible that she wasn't a combatant."

Irish officials are in contact with US authorities, who - along with Kurdish forces - are believed to be holding Smith in northern Syria.

Syrian authorities are expected to carry out a security assessment to see if they will seek to prosecute the Dundalk native for IS membership.

Prosecution

"But ultimately this is an Irish citizen and we don't believe that removing an Irish citizen's citizenship from her or her family, rendering them stateless, would be either the right or compassionate thing to do," Mr Varadkar said.

"As an Irish citizen, she will have the right to return to Ireland, as will her child. But as an Irish citizen it's not just as simple as coming here and proceeding as if nothing had happened."

Asked whether there was a legal basis for prosecuting Smith here, he said it would depend on what happens in Syria first.

"There may need to be a prosecution there. And we'll make sure that if she returns to Ireland, she isn't a threat to anybody here either," he said.

Smith joined the Defence Forces in 2001. At one point she served in the Air Corps, a role which saw her work as a flight attendant on the Government jet.

This brought her into close contact with former taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who has said she should be allowed home.

Mr Ahern said Smith was an "engaging and kind person".

"I remember thinking it was strange that she left suddenly, because usually people would stay on for a long time once they got into the Air Corps," he said.

"I'm not sure what she was up to, but I do think the Consular Service should get her home.

"If she is an Irish citizen she should be brought home. She has a kid. Get her home and then decide what to do."

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