Lisa Smith: An example of radicalisation in Europe

Lisa Smith: An example of radicalisation in Europe

Lisa Smith travelled to Syria in 2015, where she supposedly married a British IS fighter and had a baby. In 2019, she returned to Ireland, where she was charged with the crime of committing a terrorist offence for joining IS. Smith’s case illustrates the wider trend of IS fighters seeking to return to their home countries. Not everyone agrees on whether they should be allowed back in.

In 2015, Lisa Smith travelled to Syria to join the Islamic State after converting to Islam. In Syria, Smith supposedly married a British fighter and had a baby. In 2019, her life was turned around by her return to Ireland, together with her now 2-year-old daughter.[1] [2]

However, Smith’s return to Ireland has not been without controversy. Upon return, she was charged with the crime of committing a terrorist offence. Not only is it claimed that she married a British fighter, but also that she has pledged allegiance to ISIS. Smith, however, insists she never joined the organisation and condemns their actions.[3] This conviction has led to her application for bail, which she was granted.[4] [5]

Radicalised Europeans
Lisa Smith’s decision to join ISIS followed a common pattern. Her radicalisation supposedly began during a period of her life in which she was searching for identity and meaning. During this search, she was told by a religious leader that, as a Muslim, it was her duty to travel to the caliphate.[6] However, there are many other reasons why people take this step. Some seek to run away from their home situation, whereas others go to enact the radicalism that they believe in. Some travel abroad because their friends went. And others, like Smith, are in search of who they are and where they belong.[7]

In fact, expert Olivier Roy states that the typical European-born ISIS fighter does not place religious beliefs as the number one reason for their decision to join. Instead, Roy demonstrates that the ‘typical extremist’ is a young man who has become radicalised, often during short-term prison sentences for minor crimes. As a rejection of authority, he travels abroad to fight for ISIS.[8]

Return to Europe
The question arises how European countries should deal with radicalised fighters returning to their home nations. By the beginning of 2016, around 30% of fighters from EU member states had returned home.[9] However, this number is likely to increase as Turkey has started to send its imprisoned ISIS fighters home.[10]

Some believe that radicalised Europeans should not be allowed to return. This is largely based on fears that returning fighters could not only be a danger themselves, but may inspire others to radicalise. Ex-Europol director Rob Wainwright underlined these concerns by arguing that returning fighters may encourage others to join ISIS, or use their experience and contacts to conduct extremist activities at home.[11] In the case of Lisa Smith, Shaykh Dr Umar al-Qadri, chairman of the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council, has made it clear that Smith would not be welcome in Irish mosques or Islamic community centres if she did return to her home nation.[12] Additionally, many European governments are reluctant to bring the fighters back into their country, given the many potential dangers that this decision could bring.[13]

However, others, such as researchers from the European Council on Foreign Relations[14], claim that bringing European ISIS fighters back to their home country is the best strategy. This argument is supported by the fact that the repeat offending rate for political violence and terrorism is under 10%, compared to 50 to 70% for ordinary crime.[15] Moreover, returning ISIS fighters to Europe may offer the best opportunity to de-radicalise them. In their home countries, returning supporters are under control and can be prosecuted, interrogated, and helped with re-integration.[16]

De-radicalisation programs
Several countries have already put in place systems to deal with those returning from ISIS. For example, the United Kingdom has a so-called ‘desistance and disengagement programme’.[17] Within this programme, interventions and practical support are offered in order to tackle radicalisation. Besides ideological advice, this includes mentoring and psychological support, as disengagement from extremism requires more than the loss of an ideology. Even though there is no universal way to disengage individuals from extremism, it is recognised that this takes time and patience.[18]

The issue of dealing with returning fighters has become more urgent for many European nations. In November 2019, Turkey started returning the alleged foreign ISIS fighters they were holding to their home nations. Alleged fighters from America, the United Kingdom and Germany have already left Turkey. Reportedly, Danish, Irish and French individuals will follow soon. Therefore, despite the claims of numerous European nations that ISIS fighters are denationalised, they are being forced to take action as more and more individuals return to the nations they grew up in.[19]

Anne Clerx

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[1] Islamic State bride: Who is Lisa Smith?

[2] Lisa Smith’s detention extended as solicitor says she has ‘strong case’

[3] Lisa Smith walked through ‘bombs, poverty and desert’ to get back to Ireland, court told as she’s charged with Isis membership

[4] Lisa Smith charged with committing terrorist offence

[5] Former soldier Lisa Smith granted bail with strict conditions

[6] Lisa Smith remanded in custody charged with Islamic State membership

[7] How was Lisa Smith radicalised?

[8] Radically difficult: the problem of home-grown terrorism in Europe

[9] The Foreign Fighters Phenomenon in the EU – Profiles, Threats & Policies

[10] Turkije begint met terugsturen van IS-strijders

[11]Syria: EU eyes potential threat from volunteer fighters – General news – ANSAMed.it

[12]Lisa Smith ‘determined’ to give her side of the story – family spokesman

[13] Turkey’s Deportations Force Europe to Face Its ISIS Militants

[14]Beyond good and evil: Why Europe should bring ISIS foreign fighters home

[15] How was Lisa Smith radicalised?

[16]Beyond good and evil: Why Europe should bring ISIS foreign fighters home

[17] How was Lisa Smith radicalised?

[18]Extremists living in UK under secretive counter-terror programme

[19]Turkey begins deporting suspected ISIS fighters to US, UK, Germany