Kansas woman who led ISIS battalion gets 20 years in prison
Extremist movement researchers say Fluke-Ekren, 42, is the first and so far only woman in the US to be prosecuted for her role as the leader of the Islamic State. Two of Fluke-Ekrena’s children described her as an abuser who fantasized about carrying out terrorist attacks and sought to indoctrinate those around her to kill “infidels.” Federal prosecutor Raj Parekh described Fluke-Ekren as the “Empress of ISIS.”
“Let there be no doubt what the purpose of this battalion was,” said Parekh, the first assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. He said that “it is not for self-defense” and that the Islamic State document shows that a member of the Fluke-Ekren brigade “wanted to be the first to carry out a suicide operation.”
Defense attorneys contested the child abuse allegations and characterized Fluke-Ekren as a battalion leader who had never seen combat.
“We didn’t even fire the gun,” Fluke-Ekren said. “I never saw a suicide bomb go off, or that it went off.”
Former friends said Fluke-Ekren was a studious young mother who majored in biology at the University of Kansas, went to graduate school in Indiana and worked as a teacher in Kansas City, Mo., before moving with her children and second husband to Egypt in 2008. That’s when she took a sharp turn toward extremism, estranged family members told U.S. investigators.
Fluke-Ekren grew up as Allison Elizabeth Brooks on an 81-acre farm in Overbrook, Kan., the daughter of a teacher and an Army veteran who served in Vietnam, prosecutors said.
“There is nothing in Fluke-Ekren’s background that could explain her behavior,” Parekh said at the sentencing. Fluke-Ekren’s father told US authorities that she was “prone to zeal” and “often looks for people to give her a hard time for being a Muslim”.
“Was she religious? Yes. She was from Central America. Before she became a Muslim, she was like a Bible-beating Christian,” Amy Amer, a former friend of Fluke-Ekren, he told the Washington Post in June. Amer said she was taken aback when Fluke-Ekren started espousing extremist ideas.
Fluke-Ekren pleaded guilty this year to a charge of conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization, admitting that she aided terrorist groups while in Iraq, Libya and Syria from 2011 to 2019. Fluent in English and Arabic, Fluke-Ekrenina assistance included analyzing documents for Ansar al-Sharia, the group behind the attack on the US base in Benghazi, Libya, which killed four Americans in 2012, according to its guilty plea. She also provided aid to al-Qaida’s Jabhat al-Nusra branch, prosecutors said.
But it was in the Islamic State that Fluke-Ekren would gain prominent roles.
In 2016, Fluke-Ekren’s second husband oversaw Islamic State snipers in Syria, and she organized childcare, medical services and education in the city of Raqqa, according to court documents. Fluke-Ekren trained women and young girls to use AK-47 rifles, grenades and suicide belts with explosives in case male fighters needed help fending off enemy attacks, her guilty pleas said. One witness, who received military training as a girl, said Fluke-Ekren later told her that “it was important to kill the kawfar,” the Arabic word for infidels, the documents said.
As the fighters lost ground to the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in 2017, the mayor of the Islamic State of Raqqa appointed Fluke-Ekren to lead Khatiba Nusaybah, an all-women battalion. Fluke-Ekren’s group provided medical training and religious instruction, as well as martial arts instruction. He also provided courses on vehicle bombing and how to pack a “bag” of guns and military supplies, according to court documents filed in June.
U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema imposed the maximum sentence allowed under Fluke-Ekren’s plea agreement. The judge said she did not find Fluke-Ekrena’s statements during Tuesday’s hearing “entirely credible.” Fluke-Ekren said she only provided “unwitting” support to Ansar al-Sharia after the Benghazi attack and told the judge she was training women to use weapons in Syria not for terrorist purposes, but to help prevent fatal accidents inside Syria’s homes and teach women for self-defense in case enemy combatants try to sexually abuse them.
“The vast majority of my time was spent cooking, cleaning, taking children to doctors, putting antiseptic on scraped knees and mediating sibling disputes,” Fluke-Ekren said, often tearing up during her remarks to the judge.
Brinkema said that teaching women and girls to use “suicide vests cannot in any way be considered self-defense” and disagreed with Fluke-Ekren’s characterization of herself as a “passive fraud” who was led into terrorist activities by her second husband.
Witnesses said Fluke-Ekren planned various mass casualty attacks, although she never carried out the attacks. A woman linked to the Islamic State told investigators that Fluke-Ekren had the idea in 2014 to bomb an American college in the Midwest. One of Fluke-Ekrena’s daughters told US investigators how the former Kansas mother “explained that she could go to a mall in the United States, park a vehicle full of explosives in the basement or garage level of the building and detonate the explosives in the vehicle with a cell phone trigger. ” A daughter Fluke-Ekren said he considered any attack that did not kill a large number of people “a waste of resources,” according to court documents.
“In reality, Khatiba Nussayeb had barely a hundred wives, including members designated as nannies, nurses and cooks,” defense attorneys Joseph King and Sean Sherlock wrote in a sentencing brief. “The loosely organized group had no formal ranks, had no uniforms or weapons, never participated in battles, and never fired at the enemy.”
In a court filing in August, lawyers for Fluke-Ekren said her statements about carrying out terrorist attacks in the United States were in response to the “shock and horror of war” she experienced after the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, or “U.S. or U.S. coalition forces ,” killing Syrian civilians in bombings and airstrikes.
“In 2015, one of her children was killed and another seriously injured in such an attack on a residential area,” King and Sherlock wrote. “She saw numerous friends, neighbors and children killed in similar incidents during the war.”
Lawyers have denied the allegations of abuse by Fluke-Ekrena’s children, calling them “inaccurate, exaggerated, hyperbolic and in many cases completely false.” They said the allegations were first disclosed to Fluke-Ekren in September.
Parekh said Fluke-Ekren tried unsuccessfully for years to form a women’s battalion before Islamic State leaders approved her plans in Raqqa. Fluke-Ekren was not charged with assault, but prosecutors alleged in her sentencing filing that she encouraged another woman to carry out her own suicide attack and organized to adopt his child.
Fluke-Ekren decided not to cooperate with US investigators after the arrest, Parekh added.
“This accused is probably a goldmine of intelligence,” Parekh said. “All the people she met, all the conspirators she trained – but she didn’t cooperate.”
After her second husband was killed in an airstrike, Fluke-Ekren married a drone specialist for the Islamic State who worked “to attach chemical weapons to drones to drop chemical bombs from the air,” according to court records. He was also killed in an airstrike. Fluke-Ekren’s fourth husband was an Islamic State official in charge of defending Raqqa during the siege by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces at the time he was killed.
Fluke-Ekren said she left the Islamic State in 2019 and surrendered to Syrian authorities in the summer of 2021 “to protect her children from the hardships of life in war-torn Syria,” her lawyers wrote in the filing. She was surrendered to US custody in January, after 11 years outside the United States.
One daughter who spoke at Tuesday’s hearing claimed that Fluke-Ekren forced her to marry an Islamic State fighter when she was 13 and he was 17. The daughter claimed that an Islamic State fighter raped her. Fluke-Ekren claimed that her daughter had decided to marry the man.
In a taped conversation with her daughter in January 2021 in which Parekh played on court, Fluke-Ekren said, “You can’t give up, because that’s the only time you lose.”
Reflecting on the deaths of her second husband and 5-year-old son, Fluke-Ekren said during the call, “You have no regrets. You feel sad, but you don’t – regret is like, you hate what you did or the decisions you made, but when you have your goal and you know what you’re doing, and you keep moving towards it, you don’t regret it.”
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