Witness says Lisa Smith wanted to cross Turkey-Syria border to ‘join the rebellion’
Former Defense Force member Lisa Smith, who denies being a member of the Islamic State, was ‘indoctrinated and told what to think and did what she did because she believed in a false god “, told a woman who knew her in Syria at the Special Criminal Court.
ania Joya, a British national who became radicalized in her teens and twenties and who traveled to the Middle East with her husband, said Ms Smith was happy and excited when she arrived in Syria in 2013, felt that she was where she had always planned to be, and planned to die a martyr there.
The witness also revealed how much Mrs Smith admired her husband, John Georgelas, an American convert considered an authority and scholar on Islam. She said Ms Smith ‘clings to his every word’ and ‘looks up to him dearly’. He was charismatic, she said, and had such knowledge of the Quran that he could use it to contextualize any situation.
Ms Smith (39) from Dundalk, Co Louth pleaded not guilty to membership in an illegal terrorist group, the Islamic State, between October 28, 2015 and December 1, 2019. She also pleaded not guilty to financing terrorism by sending €800 in assistance, via a Western Union money transfer, to a man identified on May 6, 2015.
Ms Joya said she first heard of Lisa Smith in 2013 when her husband John Georgelas, an American convert to Islam, started talking to Ms Smith through an Islamic Facebook page called ‘We Hear We Obey’. Ms Joya was living with her husband in Egypt at the time and he urged Ms Smith to travel to Egypt to ‘do the hijrah’. He also named Ms Smith administrator of the We Hear We Obey page, although Ms Joya said it was ‘nothing really significant’.
The witness said she enjoyed talking to Ms Smith via Facebook. They spoke about the situation in Egypt, including the government crackdown on Islamists. She said there were “helicopters above our heads” and the army was killing people and burning mosques. The family decided to leave. Mrs Joya wanted to go to Greece so she could stop wearing the hijab but her husband would not allow this and decided they would go to Turkey where they arranged to meet Mrs Smith. Mrs Joya was looking forward to meeting Mrs Smith as she wanted help looking after her children and she thought Mrs Smith seemed very nice.
Ms Smith arrived in Turkey alone in late August 2013 and moved into the same hotel where Ms Joya and her family were staying. Things got “ugly”, Ms Joya said, because Ms Smith wanted to go to Syria to join the rebellion against the Assad regime. She said Ms Smith felt ‘obligated to help the rebels because they were oppressed’. Ms Joya said many Muslims are “brainwashed” into believing that if they die a martyr they will go to heaven and bring all their loved ones with them. “It’s a one-way trip,” she said.
One evening, while looking for accommodation, Mrs. Joya, her children, her husband and Mrs. Smith got on a bus. The witness did not know where they were going but when the sun rose she realized that they had crossed the border into Syria. She said that Georgelas had promised that they would only stay for a few weeks.
“Lisa was excited,” she said. “I see her face in my head and there was excitement there… She had gotten to where she always planned to go.” She said Ms Smith “planned to die there and be a martyr. It was not unusual. A lot of Muslims were saying that”.
In Syria, no one spoke to him or Lisa because “we were women and inferiors”. But they were taken care of because a sheikh who knew Georgelas told the militia to take care of them. They were brought to a villa without running water or electricity. The windows were smashed and there were bullet holes in the walls. It was dirty, she said, and was used by many people arriving in the country.
There was a curfew and it was difficult to get food, but the militia brought drinking water and supplies. Mrs. Joya complained but said that Mrs. Smith was happy. She added: “Lisa had a great attitude. She was very optimistic while I was the exact opposite.” Everyone loved Ms Smith, the witness said, not least because she covered herself in the way deemed appropriate for women, which Ms Joya refused to do.
Ms Joya also felt that Ms Smith had to marry because “Arab men drooled over her because of her white skin”. But she did not approve of the husband she had chosen, a Tunisian member of al-Qaeda. They couldn’t talk to each other, she said, and the only reason Mrs Smith wanted to marry him was because he was “hot” and a fighter.
She described him as a handsome and charming Tunisian with a lovely smile. He wanted to marry Mrs. Smith, the witness said, because she was white. Ms. Joya refused to attend the wedding ceremony. She said: “She knew I thought it was ridiculous but she didn’t care. To her, I wasn’t a good Muslim. And I wasn’t, because I didn’t want to be a Muslim. .”
Mrs. Joya had decided that she was going to leave and had arranged to leave Syria. Before leaving, she said Ms Smith had asked if she was going to report her to the authorities. Ms. Joya told her she should do it. Ms Smith, she said, immediately blocked her on Facebook.
Ms. Joya was brought by human traffickers to Turkey and flew to Istanbul and eventually returned to the United States to live with Georgelas’ parents in Texas. She said she reached out to Georgelas from time to time on social media. She identified him in several photographs taken in 2014 near Aleppo after he was injured.
In cross-examination, she told defense attorney Michael O’Higgins SC that when she first met Georgelas she found him charismatic and fun. He was smart, spoke several languages and could doze off with her whenever he wanted. He spoke Arabic better than many Arabs, had published poetry in that language, and had been hired by the State of Qatar to translate Islamic laws. People, including academics, looked up to him and he knew how to attract people to him, she said, and could “influence them with his intelligence”.
But she also described him as a “misogynist” who used the Koran to justify lying to her. She said he had “psychopathic tendencies”; he thought torturing people would be fun. She said Ms Smith was not on the level of Georgelas intellectually or in terms of communication skills. She agreed that she was open and receptive to his ideas and “looked up to him a lot”.
She described her own journey of radicalization in the UK and how, by 2006, she had come to believe in the idea of the caliphate herself. She said she believed at the time that if you didn’t join the caliphate, you would go to hell. But she was also conflicted during this time and questioned what she was being told and “blasphemed”. When she read Thomas Paine’s words, “a cruel god makes a cruel man”, she stopped believing in the radical version of Islam and began to move away from extremism. “He articulated the words that I had felt for years,” she said.
Until then, she said she hadn’t heard a rational argument against what she was being taught. She said that when she asked questions, other Muslims told her that she was not religious enough or that she was too materialistic or worldly. When Mr O’Higgins asked if the defendant would have believed she would have gone to hell if she had not participated in the Caliphate, the witness said that Mrs Smith had been “indoctrinated and told what to think and that she had obeyed what she thought because she believed in a false god.”
The trial continues before Judge Tony Hunt, presiding, with Judge Gerard Griffin and Judge Cormac Dunne in the three-judge court without a jury.