Struggles with depression and suicidal feelings led Lisa Smith down the path of Salafist Islam – even though she did not initially “trust Muslims”, she says.
Her journey brought her to Syria with a jihadist husband, and has ended with her begging to be brought home from the Al-Hawl refugee camp on the Iraqi-Syrian border, along with her two-year-old daughter Ruqayya.
Speaking from the camp, Ms Smith recalled how she began her conversion – which happened around the time she was living in Dundalk and working in the Irish Defence Forces.
“I was looking for answers, some people go through life and they’re looking for answers, they’re reading books, why are we here? They’re asking questions,” she said.
“I was very depressed in life. I didn’t want to live anymore. I was one of these people that was like suicidal, you know, because there’s no answers.
“I don’t know what’s going on. So if you don’t get answers, you’re probably going to end up killing yourself.
“You’re reading Christian books, reading spiritual books, going to spiritual healers, going to fortune tellers.
“You’re just trying to grab on to everything to keep yourself sane. So then I came across Islam and that was it,” she said.
Despite her interest, Smith said she did not initially trust Muslims.
“I didn’t trust Muslims and I didn’t trust Islam because of the stories.
“But as I learned I just knew it was all lies about Muslims being terrorists. It’s not what I represent,” she said.
Ms Smith claims to have been radicalised online by an American jihadi who she spoke to via Facebook.
She claims she did not meet extremists in the country, but heard of several people who were “Irish” while in Isil territory.
“Someone told me [Dublin-born suicide bomber] Khalid Kelly was here and I was like, ‘What?’
“I saw a video or two of him and I really didn’t take a liking to him,” she added.
The latest revelations follow Ms Smith’s interview at the weekend, when she spoke of her desire to return to Ireland with her two-year-old daughter.
She says the child was born to a British father, Sajid Aslam, who she says died in the past three months.
Aslam was a jihadist whose first wife was Lorna Moore, originally from Co Tyrone in Northern Ireland. Moore was jailed in the UK after authorities discovered her attempts to reach her jihadist husband with their children.
Ms Smith converted to Islam while in Dundalk, but divorced her first husband who would not come with her to Syria despite her pleas.
She later married Aslam, she says, because she was not allowed to live alone as a woman. But she regrets her decision and wants to return to Ireland, particularly for the sake of her young daughter.
The Al-Hawl camp is based in the desert on the border between Iraq and Syria and is home to nearly 80,000 people, despite only being designed to house about 10,000.
“For me, I want to go back to my country,” the former member of the Defence Forces told the ‘Mail on Sunday’.
“[My daughter’s] my number one priority now, that’s why I want to leave and take her home with me and get her educated.”
Ms Smith denies she ever fought for Isil and did not even own a gun, and that her Army training was irrelevant.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has already indicated Ms Smith would be permitted to return to Ireland if she wished.
But he has said a security assessment would have to be carried to make sure she is not a threat to anyone in Ireland.
He previously said he would be “very loath to revoke anyone’s citizenship provided there are a citizen by right or acquired their citizenship appropriately”.
He said he thought it was “bad practice” to revoke someone’s citizenship and “leave them to be somebody else’s problem”.
Asked if she should face investigation in Ireland, Ms Smith said: “I don’t think I should be tried.
“If they want to put an investigation on me, I have nothing to hide.
“The only thing I did was come here and, if that’s my crime like a lot of other people’s, for coming here and realising I made a mistake.”
But Ms Smith will not be fast-tracked out of the camp according to Syrian and Irish sources.
It may take several months to process her exit as NGOs are currently overwhelmed by the unexpected number of civilians emerging from Isil territory.
Many foreign women do not hold passports.
Some of the foreign women housed with Ms Smith, in an excluded section of the camp, are known to frequently riot.
The women are described as “radical” by camp workers and security personnel.
Some personnel have been attacked by women who refused to engage with services and whose children face a higher rate of malnourishment.