- Fluke-Ekren waged violent jihad in Libya, Iraq and Syria for eight years, prosecutors said.
- She trained women and children to use AK-47 assault rifles, grenades and suicide belts.
- Fluke-Ekren’s lawyers argued she deserves a shorter sentence after trauma and loss she suffered.
WASHINGTON – A Kansas woman who admitted to supporting the Islamic State terrorist organization, including training a battalion of women and girls to fight with rifles and explosives, was sentenced Tuesday to 20 years in prison.
Allison Fluke-Ekren, 42, who was born in Lawrence, Kansas, pleaded guilty in June to conspiring to support a foreign terrorist organization, the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham, also known as ISIS. Counterterrorism experts said she represented an unusual case of a woman commanding power in the traditionally male-dominated culture of Islamic jihad.
Fluke-Ekren, whose father and grandfather were U.S. military veterans, committed terrorist acts during eight years in Libya, Iraq and Syria and planned mass-casualty attacks in the U.S., according to prosecutors. Prosecutors had argued the 20-year maximum sentence wouldn’t be sufficient for her crimes.
Beyond the prison term, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema sentenced Fluke-Ekren to 25 years of probation.
Her lawyers had urged Brinkema to order an unspecified shorter sentence because of the trauma and loss she experienced. Three of her husbands and two children died overseas. She suffered post-traumatic stress syndrome in Syria and abandoned violence when she quit the terror group in May 2019, her lawyers said.
In Syria, she served as the leader of an all-female Islamic State group military battalion and trained women and children to use AK-47 assault rifles, grenades and suicide belts on behalf of the terror organization, she admitted. She trained more than 100 women and girls as young as 10, the statement said.
In addition to the terrorism charge, prosecutors discovered during the sentencing investigation that her eldest son and daughter accused her of physically and sexually abusing them as children.
“Allison Fluke-Ekren brainwashed young girls and trained them to kill,” First Assistant U.S. Attorney Raj Parekh said in a sentencing memo. “She carved a path of terror, plunging her own children into unfathomable depths of cruelty by physically, psychologically, emotionally and sexually abusing them.”
But Fluke-Ekren denied allegations of abuse. She called the accusations in the sentencing memo “inaccurate, exaggerated, hyperbolic and in many cases completely false,” according to her lawyers, Joseph King and Sean Sherlock.
Fluke-Ekren’s son says she’s a ‘monster’
Fluke-Ekren grew up on a “picturesque and bucolic” 81-acre farm in Overbrook, Kansas, in a “loving and stable home,” according to prosecutors. Her grandfather served in the Navy during World War II, and her father served in the Army in Vietnam, prosecutors noted.
But one of her daughters told authorities an adolescent Fluke-Ekren tormented her brother, who is a year younger than her, “for fun” and tried to drown him in an icy lake, according to court documents.
She became pregnant at 16 and married her first husband, James Fluke, in 1996, according to court records. She had a son and daughter with him before divorcing in 2002. Fluke called her a “con artist” and told authorities “something is deeply broken inside that woman,” according to prosecutors.
Fluke-Ekren’s son, who was not named in court documents, recounted years of physical, emotional and sexual abuse by her. She choked him to unconsciousness, locked him in tight spaces until he defecated on himself and poured salt or chemicals into his wounds, he said.
“My mother is a monster who enjoys torturing children for sexual pleasure,” said her son, who s expected to attend the sentencing in Alexandria, Virginia. “My mother is a monster very skilled in manipulation and controlling her emotions to her advantage.”
Fluke-Ekren’s daughter also reported being molested by her as a child. The daughter reported being slapped so hard as a 6-year-old in Egypt that her cheek would bruise in the shape of her mother’s fingers, according to court records.
“My mother would beat my body, leaving my muscles cramping in agony,” her daughter said.
Fluke-Ekren’s lawyers said they didn’t have the time or resources to counter the allegations. But among the points they made were that she recalled her father was “disapproving, distant, fake and judgmental” and her mother suffered from “severe and incapacitating depression.”
The lawyers argued they would have to subpoena pediatrician records from Kansas, school records from Indiana where her children attended school and medical records from Egypt and Turkey, in addition to interviewing witnesses in the Middle East.
“She vehemently denies the allegations of abuse and many of the characterizations of her in these paragraphs and points out there were no prior complaints lodged against (her) by her large extended family to any authority,” her lawyers said.
Fluke-Ekren admitted helping terrorists, training women to wield weapons
Fluke-Ekren’s break with the U.S. came after she completed college and graduate school and moved to the Middle East, according to court records that outlined her journey from Kansas mother to overseas terrorist.
She met her second husband, Volkan Ekren, and converted to Islam while studying biology at the University of Kansas. After graduating in December 2006, she taught math and science at a school in Wichita before beginning a graduate teaching program at Earlham College in Indiana in June 2007.
She moved with her children and Ekren to Cairo in 2008. She eventually had six more children with him. Her father, stepmother and then-11-year-old son each said she fled the U.S. to avoid repaying student loans now totaling $86,817.
She emerged on the terror scene after the Sept. 11, 2012, attack in Libya on U.S. government offices in Benghazi, which killed four Americans. Ekren claimed he removed a box of documents and an electronic device from the compound, and she helped him summarize the records, according to court records. The documents and device were ultimately given to leaders of the terror group Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi, according to court records.
While residing in Syria in 2014, Fluke-Ekren told a witness she wanted to detonate a vehicle full of explosives at a U.S. shopping mall. She also discussed bombing a U.S. college in the Midwest in retaliation for an airstrike near al-Bab, Syria, that killed children, prosecutors said. Those attacks never happened.
Fluke-Ekren’s lawyers questioned the credibility of witnesses in a presentencing memo, which remains under seal, compared with their earlier statements on attack plans.
Fluke-Ekren created a military battalion of women, called Khatiba Nusaybah, in February 2017, to teach women to help defend Raqqa, Syria, according to court documents.
She lost three spouses to fighting. Ekren, a leader of snipers for the Islamic State group, was killed in a U.S. airstrike in 2016 in Tel Abyad, Syria, according to court records. Her third husband, Mohammed Zafer, a Bangladeshi Islamic State group member who specialized in drones, was killed in an airstrike in Raqqa, Syria, in 2016, according to court records. She had three children with him.
Her fourth husband, Mohammed Doe, another Bangladeshi Islamic State group member responsible for defending Raqqa, died fighting there in 2018, according to court records. Ekren and Doe were “emotionally controlling and abusive” to her, her lawyers said.
Fluke-Ekren’s case stood out because terrorist leaders aren’t typically women
International terrorism charges against women are extremely rare, according to experts, because men tend to dominate the misogynistic groups such as al-Qaida, the lslamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, and related groups in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world.
But a dozen cases over the past decade of U.S. citizens or permanent residents revealed women shedding traditional caretaker roles to recruit fellow warriors, train others to use rifles and explosives, and even kill.
After Doe’s death, Fluke-Ekren abandoned the terror group in May 2019, according to her lawyers. She was smuggled out of territory controlled by the militants, devoted herself to raising her children and married her fifth husband, Mahmood Mustafa, a Syrian who was not a member of the terror group, according to her lawyers.
She sought “to bring safety and stability to her children and to allow herself to settle down and live as normal a life as possible,” her lawyers said.
She worked for a nongovernmental organization and she taught at a school for about 50 children that opened in January 2020 in Qobassin, Syria, according to her lawyers.
After separating from Mustafa, she tried to surrender to local police in the summer of 2021. She was arrested two weeks later and held for seven months before being transferred to the U.S. in January 2022, according to court records.
“Her life after leaving ISIS reflected her disavowal of violence,” her lawyers said.