Lisa Smith loses appeal against sentence for terror group membership

Court of Appeal says judges who convicted former soldier showed ‘scrupulous fairness’ and regard to evidence

Former soldier Lisa Smith is to remain in prison for membership of the terrorist group Islamic State after an attempt to overturn her 15-month sentence was rejected by the Court of Appeal.

Delivering the judgment of the three-judge court on Wednesday, Mr Justice John Edwards said the judges of the Special Criminal Court who tried, convicted and sentenced Smith had shown “scrupulous fairness and appropriate regard to the evidence”. The court dismissed all grounds of appeal relating to the sentence.

Following the judgment Ms Smith’s lawyers indicated that they want to appeal her conviction as soon as possible. Her case will be mentioned again on March 24th.

With ordinary remission on her 15-month sentence, and taking into account the month she spent in custody on her return to Ireland in 2019, Smith is due for release on May 27th.


Smith last year became the first person to be convicted in an Irish court of an Islamic terrorist offence committed abroad when the Special Criminal Court found that she joined Isis when she travelled to Syria in 2015.

The 41-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 Smith, Mr Justice Tony Hunt noted that while she was at 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 said that Smith 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.

Appealing the sentence last October, 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 and “did not contribute to any state-building exercise and did no positive act in favour of Isis”.

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.

Seán 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”. He said Smith knew of its “bloodlust” and discussed Isis atrocities with others in online conversations.

“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 al-Baghdadi 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.

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.