Women who tried to leave Islamic State faced prison, torture and death, trial told

Women Who Tried To Leave Islamic State Faced Prison, Torture And Death, Trial Told Women Who Tried To Leave Islamic State Faced Prison, Torture And Death, Trial Told
Dr Florence Gaub, of the European Union Institute for Security Studies, gave evidence in the trial of Lisa Smith. Photo: Collins Courts
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Eoin Reynolds

Women who tried to leave the Islamic State in Syria faced imprisonment, torture and death an expert on Middle Eastern conflicts has told the trial of Lisa Smith, a former Irish soldier who denies membership of Isis.

Dr Florence Gaub told the Special Criminal Court that anyone caught trying to get out would be considered a traitor, a spy or a coward. She described one case in which an Austrian woman was beaten to death with a hammer when she said she wanted to go home.

The witness also agreed with Ms Smith's defence counsel Michael O'Higgins SC that women in Isis-controlled territory could not travel without the permission of their husbands.

Ms Smith (40), from Dundalk, Co Louth, an Islamic convert and former Irish soldier, travelled to Syria after terrorist leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi called on all Muslims to travel to the Islamic State. She has pleaded not guilty to membership of an unlawful terrorist group, Islamic State, between October 28th, 2015 and December 1st, 2019. She has also pleaded not guilty to financing terrorism by sending €800 in assistance, via a Western Union money transfer, to a named man on May 6th, 2015.


After her arrest in 2019, Ms Smith told gardaí that she travelled to Syria because she believed she was under a religious obligation to join the Caliphate announced by Baghdadi.

Preferential treatment

Dr Gaub, a social scientist and director of the European Union Institute for Security Studies, has previously told the trial that anyone who travelled in support of the Islamic State would have received preferential treatment and was a member of the terrorist group Isis.

Mr Justice Tony Hunt, presiding at the three-judge, non-jury court, has said that the court will decide whether Ms Smith joined a terrorist organisation and is not bound by Dr Gaub's opinion.

During cross-examination on Monday, Dr Gaub told Mr O'Higgins that Sharia Law is open to multiple interpretations across the Muslim world. The religion, she said, is not centralised in the way Catholicism is so there is no definitive interpretation of scripture.

Under Isis, which adheres to a "salafist" doctrine, the role of women was to get married and once married a woman was bound to obey her husband.

Dr Gaub agreed that this was based on Islamic scripture which states that the husband is guided by the wisdom of Allah and is therefore giving God's instruction to his wife. She further agreed that women were restricted in the Islamic State and could not leave their homes without their husband's permission.

'Bring them into line'


Husbands can also "lightly chastise" their wives, Dr Gaub said, to "bring them into line". It is also easier for men to divorce their wives than it is for women. This, she said, often makes women vulnerable as they rely on their husbands.

There were, she said, "extreme consequences" for people who tried to leave the Islamic State. Dr Gaub said: "Isis considered that people in its territory were subjects so leaving required permission. Without it, you would be considered a spy, a traitor or a coward or a person failing to do your duties. The consequences could be imprisonment, torture and killing."

Such punishments, she said, were routine in the Islamic State, and she recounted the case of two Austrian women who said they wanted to leave to go home. One of them was killed with a hammer.

Dr Gaub has confirmed that there were morality police in the Islamic State who were particularly concerned with implementing morality laws relating to women.
She further agreed that female Isis propagandists put forward a false view of life inside the Islamic State.

During a lengthy cross-examination Dr Gaub said she "strongly challenges" an assertion by Mr O'Higgins that her claim about westerners receiving preferential treatment is based on a single article in the New Yorker magazine.

She said that since 2017 there has been an "avalanche" of papers from Isis and other academics to back up her statements. She described Mr O'Higgins's suggestion as "really problematic" and said that Mr O'Higgins was relying on assertions made by an academic who had not provided any references.

She added: "You have the nerve to tell me I'm not adhering to academic standards." Mr O'Higgins said he is just "stress-testing" Dr Gaub's claims.

The cross-examination will continue on Tuesday.

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