Tánaiste: 'Complex and sensitive' operation to repatriate Lisa Smith could take weeks

The "complex and sensitive" operation to repatriate Lisa Smith and her young daughter could take weeks, rather than days, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs has revealed.

Tánaiste: 'Complex and sensitive' operation to repatriate Lisa Smith could take weeks

The "complex and sensitive" operation to repatriate Lisa Smith and her young daughter could take weeks, rather than days, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs has revealed.

In his first official comments on the operation since details of it emerged over the weekend, Simon Coveney said a decision has been taken to bring the pair home, that it's being treated as a "consular case" and the recent commentary and speculation on the operation has not been helpful.

"It’s not helpful to speculate in relation to this case - it’s a sensitive and complex case. It has been for a number of months now," he said.

"As people will know, Lisa Smith has a two-year-old daughter. She’s an Irish citizen. She is my primary concern in all of this.

We are treating this as a consular case and with all consular cases, regardless of the circumstances or the complexity, they need to be treated confidentially and with sensitivity and this is a case that is extremely complicated.

Ms Smith, 38, left Ireland several years ago and spent time in Tunisia before she relocated to Syria where she got involved with the Isis terrorist group, and married one of its fighters, who has since been killed.

As Isis lost territory, Ms Smith was detained in a refugee camp in north-east Syria, before her daughter was born. The pair fled the camp last month and they are now believed to be held by Turkish-backed militia close to Syria's border with Turkey.

Mr Coveney said diplomats in the Irish Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, who are working on the case, are being assisted by Defence Forces' personnel.

It has been reported that members of the army's elite Ranger Wing have been deployed to provide that assistance as part of what the Department of Foreign Affairs officially classes as a Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation.

Mr Coveney said the diplomats are working with the Turkish authorities to try and make progress on the case.

"But I don’t think it’s helpful to speculate on the back of the rumour which is what has been happening in recent days," he said.

"I would like to say that we are not likely to see a major breakthrough in the coming days but I am hopeful that within a few weeks we will be able to make progress in this case."

Earlier, the chairperson of the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council

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Shayk Dr Umar Al-Qadri told the Sean O'Rourke show on RTÉ Radio One that while “undoubtedly” the Irish Government has a duty to provide consular care, he questioned the “level of efforts” being made for a member of Isis.

“I find it quite shocking that our government is putting so much effort to bring back that particular individual. It was extraordinary to include the Defence Forces," he said.

Dr Al-Qadri said he was concerned that Ms Smith could still be a threat to Irish society and he asked if any plans had been made for her to be deradicalised.

If she was willing to share intelligence then that was another issue, he said.

Security expert Tom Clonan said this was an unusual case and that Ms Smyth was potentially a security risk.

She would be “of considerable interest” to both the Irish and UK authorities, he said, because she had been housed with other English speakers who had joined Isis.

There was also the issue of whether Ms Smith was prepared to return to Ireland. If she did not then she was essentially stateless.

“Her options are fairly stark," he said.

Gardaí confirmed last month that they are investigating Ms Smith's interactions with the terrorist group under anti-terror legislation.

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