Kansas woman who joined ISIS pleads guilty to terrorism charge
Researchers on extremist movements say Fluke-Ekren, 42, is the first and so far only U.S. woman to be prosecuted for an Islamic State leadership role. Two of Fluke-Ekren’s children described her as an abuser who fantasized about launching terrorist attacks and tried to indoctrinate those around her to kill “believers.” Federal prosecutor Raj Parekh described Fluke-Ekren as “the empress of ISIS.”
“Leave no doubt what the purpose of this fleet is,” said Parekh, first assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. He said that “it was not in self-defense” and that an Islamic State document showed that a member of Fluke-Ekren’s brigade “wanted to be the first to carry out a suicide mission.”
Defense attorneys disputed the child abuse allegations and characterized Fluke-Ekren as the leader of a platoon that had never been involved in combat.
“We didn’t even fire a gun,” Fluke-Ekren said. “I have never seen a suicide bomb detonate or detonate.”
Fluke-Ekren graduated from the University of Kansas with a biology degree, went to graduate school in Indiana, and moved to Kansas City, Mo. Former friends said she was a young mother who worked as a teacher at, studied before moving in with her children and second husband. Egypt in 2008. She later took a sharp turn towards extremism, estranged family members told US investigators.
Fluke-Ekren grew up as Alison Elizabeth Brooks on an 81-acre farm in Overbrook, 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 in sentencing. Fluke-Ekren’s father told US authorities that she was “prone to excitement” and “often looked for people to give her a hard time for being Muslim”.
“Is she religious? Yes. She is from Central America. Before she became a Muslim, she was like a Bible-bashing Christian,” Amy Amer, a former friend of Fluke-Ekran, told The Washington Post in June. Amer said she was surprised when Fluke-Ekren started making extremist comments.
Fluke-Ekren pleaded guilty this year to one count of conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization, admitting she supported terrorist groups while in Iraq, Libya and Syria from 2011 to 2019. Fluke-Ekren’s support included fluency in both English and Arabic. Analyzing documents for Ansar al-Sharia, the group behind the 2012 attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, according to her guilty plea. She also supported al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, prosecutors said.
But Fluke-Ekren takes leading roles in the Islamic State.
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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 explosive suicide belts when male fighters needed help fending off enemy attacks, her plea documents said. One witness, who received military training as a girl, said Fluke-Ekren later told her it was “important to kill the kuffar,” an Arabic word for infidels, the documents said.
As male fighters were losing ground to the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in 2017, the Islamic State mayor of Raqqa named Fluke-Ekren the leader of the all-female battalion, Khatiba Nusaybah. Fluke-Ekren’s group offered medical training and religious classes as well as martial arts instruction. Courses were also provided in vehicle bombing and how to pack a “go bag” with rifles 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-Ekren’s statements “entirely believable” during Tuesday’s hearing. Fluke-Ekren said she only provided “unwitting” support to Ansar al-Sharia after the Benghazi attack, and told the judge that women in Syria are trained to handle weapons not for terrorist purposes, but to help prevent deadly accidents inside Syria. Homes and to teach women self-defense if enemy combatants attempt to sexually assault them.
“The vast majority of my time was spent cooking, cleaning, taking kids to doctors, disinfecting scraped knees and settling sibling disputes,” Fluke-Ekren said, often in tears during her statement to the judge.
Brinkema said that “teaching women and girls to use suicide vests cannot be considered self-defense” and that she disagreed with Fluke-Ekren’s portrayal of herself as a “passive dupe” driven by her second husband into terrorist activities.
Witnesses said Fluke-Ekren said she never carried out the attacks, but planned various mass casualty attacks. A woman with Islamic State ties told investigators Fluke-Ekran had the idea to bomb a US college in the Middle East in 2014. One of Fluke-Ekren’s daughters told U.S. investigators how the former Kansas mother “explained that she could go to a mall in the United States, park an explosives-laden vehicle on the basement or parking garage level of the structure and detonate the explosives.” In the vehicle with a mobile phone triggering device. daughter Fluke-Ekren said any attack that did not kill a large number of people would be considered a “waste of resources,” according to court documents.
“In reality, Khatiba Nussayeb had just under a hundred women, including members named as babysitters, nurses and cooks,” defense attorneys Joseph King and Sean Sherlock wrote in a sentencing brief. “The loosely organized group had no formal ranks, issued no uniforms or weapons, never engaged in combat, never fired upon an enemy.”
In an August court filing, Fluke-Ekren’s attorneys said her comments about terrorist attacks in the United States were a response to the “shock and horror of war” she experienced after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, led by coalition forces, bombed. and airstrikes killed Syrian civilians.
“A similar attack in a residential neighborhood in 2015 killed one of her children and seriously injured another,” King and Sherlock wrote. “She saw many friends, neighbors and children killed in such incidents during the war.”
Lawyers have denied the abuse allegations made by Fluke-Ekren’s children, calling them “inaccurate, exaggerated, exaggerated, and in many cases completely false.” The allegations were first disclosed to Fluke-Ekren in September, they said.
Parekh said Fluke-Ekren tried unsuccessfully to establish a women’s battalion for years before Islamic State leaders approved her plans in Raqqa. Fluke-Ekren has not been charged with any violent conduct, but a prosecutor argued in a sentencing brief that she encouraged and orchestrated another woman to carry out her own suicide attack. to adopt her child.
Parekh added that Fluke-Ekren chose not to cooperate with US investigators after her arrest.
“This defendant could be a gold mine of intelligence,” Parekh said. “All the people she’s met, all the co-conspirators she’s trained — but she didn’t cooperate.”
After her second husband was killed in an airstrike, Fluke-Ekren married an expert on unmanned aerial vehicles for the Islamic State who was working “attachment of 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 the Islamic State official in charge of Raqqa’s security during a siege by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces at the time of his murder.
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 living in war-torn Syria,” her lawyers wrote in a filing. She was placed in US custody in January after 11 years outside the US.
One of the daughters who spoke at Tuesday’s hearing said Fluke-Ekran forced her to marry an Islamic State fighter when she was 13 and he was 17. The daughter claimed that the Islamic State fighter raped her. Fluke-Ekren said it was her daughter’s wish to marry the man.
“You can’t give up because that’s the only chance you’re going to lose,” Fluke-Ekran said in a January 2021 taped call with her daughter, who played on the Pareak court.
Referring to the deaths of her second husband and 5-year-old son, Fluke-Ekren said on the call: “You don’t feel remorse. You feel sad but you don’t – like regret, 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’re moving towards it, you don’t. I regret it.”