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Convicted terrorist Lisa Smith's 15-month jail sentence ‘was excessive’, appeal court told

Mr O'Higgins said that the Special Criminal Court, which convicted and sentenced Smith, did not give enough regard to the mitigating factors, including that Smith is a mother of a young child.

Convicted terrorist and former Defence Forces member Lisa Smith. Picture by PA

Eoin ReynoldsSunday World

Former soldier Lisa Smith, who was convicted earlier this year of membership of ISIS, was at the "lowest level" of the terrorist organisation and her sentence of 15 months was "excessive", her lawyers have told the Court of Appeal.

Appealing the sentence, Michael O'Higgins SC, for Smith, told the three-judge court that his client went to ISIS-controlled Syria "got married, kept house and that's it."

He said she went out of a religious conviction, "did not contribute to any state-building exercise and did no positive act in favour of Isis."

He added: "There is nothing [in the evidence] beyond that she kept house for a man who did not even regard her as a person."

Mr O'Higgins said that the Special Criminal Court, which convicted and sentenced Smith, did not give enough regard to the mitigating factors, including that Smith is a mother of a young child.

He said that the court had incorrectly placed her offending at the higher end of the lower level for membership of a terrorist organisation and stated that the evidence showed that her involvement with Isis could not have been at a lower level than it was.

Mr O'Higgins also said that in sentencing, the Special Criminal Court should have taken into account the nine-and-a-half months Smith spent in two detention camps in Syria. The conditions in those camps were appalling he said; she was locked up "day and night" in a place where people held extreme views and where murder "routinely happens".

The camp was policed by "women who are vicious, looking out for anything that indicates dissidence," he said.

Despite the risks to her, Smith spoke out against Isis when Professor Anne Speckhard, an expert in violent extremism, came looking to interview those in the camps. The interview she gave was broadcast with Smith's face pixelated but Smith agreed to have the pixelation removed once she had returned to Ireland.

Mr O'Higgins said the court also failed to adequately consider the report written by Professor Speckhard who said that Smith had sincerely denounced Isis and did not support Isis atrocities.

He said that Smith was convicted on the basis that she submitted to the jurisdiction of Islamic State, adding that you could criminalise an entire nation on the same basis but that such offences would have to be considered at the lowest possible level of membership.

Sean Gillane SC, for the Director of Public Prosecutions, said that Isis was a terrorist organisation of "some notoriety which carried out acts of almost historically unprecedented bloodiness." Smith knew of its "bloodlust", counsel said, and discussed Isis atrocities with others in online conversations. He added: "The very essence of the terror was known to her, discussed by her and in some situations explicitly approbated by her."

Smith also knew that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of Isis, had been denounced by Islamic academics all over the world but she still chose to travel to Syria. She rejected every entreaty not to go, counsel said, and when in Syria she rejected every call to return.

She rejected her own husband who asked her not to go and divorced him when he refused to pledge allegiance to al-Baghdadi, Mr Gillane said.

Counsel said the headline sentence of two years and six months set by the Special Criminal Court was appropriate. The reduction from the headline to 15 months, he said, showed that the court did take into account mitigating factors including the hardship she had endured in the detention camps in Syria.

The Court of Appeal reserved judgment. Ms Smith's lawyers intend to appeal her conviction later this year.

Earlier this year Smith became the first person to be convicted in an Irish court of an Islamic terrorist offence committed abroad when the three-judge, non-jury Special Criminal Court found that she joined Isis when she travelled to Syria in 2015. The 40-year-old from Dundalk, Co Louth had pleaded not guilty to membership of an unlawful terrorist group, Islamic State, between October 28th, 2015 and December 1st, 2019.

Sentencing her to 15 months in prison, Mr Justice Tony Hunt noted that while Smith is a low risk for re-offending, she was persistent and determined in her efforts to travel to Syria and join Isis and has shown no remorse for her actions.

He said it was "serious" for an Irish citizen to take up allegiance with a terrorist organisation and persist with it.

He added that "she may have been easily led by circumstances and other people" but she had also shown resilience and determination to join and remain with Isis "to the bitter end".

She had rejected her family and one of her husbands, who refused to swear allegiance to Isis, and had aligned herself with terrorists such as John Georgelas, an American Isis fighter and propagandist who was killed during fighting in Syria. He said that a custodial sentence was necessary to mark the seriousness of the offence and to deter others from offering support to dangerous organisations.

During garda interviews, Smith accepted that she travelled to Isis-controlled Syria in 2015 but denied that she had ever joined Isis or any other group. She said she believed she had a religious obligation to live inside the Islamic State created by terrorist leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Mr Justice Hunt, delivering the court's verdict, said that she went to Syria with her "eyes wide open" having watched videos of Isis atrocities and having taken part in online discussions about Isis with jihadis from Germany, Australia, America and parts of the Middle East.

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