The Kansas woman who joined ISIS left a “trail of betrayal”

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia – A Kansas teacher who converted to Islam went to the world’s most dangerous conflicts – Libya, Iraq, Syria – hoping to go to war.

Syria was where the teacher, Allison Fluke-Ekren, ultimately made her mark: she rose through the ranks of the Islamic State, commanding a battalion of fighters and training more than 100 women and girls, including her daughter.

Though her daughter fled to Kansas in 2017, Ms. Fluke-Ekren remained, hoping to die defending the so-called caliphate and trying to trick her family in the United States into believing she was no longer alive. She was finally detained in the summer of 2021, held by unknown forces in Syria, before being taken to the Eastern District of Virginia in January on charges of providing material support to terrorists.

On Tuesday, Ms. Fluke-Ekren, 42, found guilty on the sole charge in a federal court of Northern Virginia. As part of a plea deal, Ms. Fluke-Ekren detailed her role in Syria, as well as a previously undisclosed connection to the 2012 attacks in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including the US ambassador to Libya.

For the FBI and prosecutors, their conviction marked the end of a seven-year hunt. Ms. Fluke-Ekren’s hardened militancy, fervor, and unusually high-level position in the Islamic State also stood out among Americans who traveled to wage jihad in Syria. The case was the first court case in the United States involving a senior female military leader of the Islamic State, the United States’ first assistant prosecutor, Raj Parekh, said during the hearing on Tuesday.

A teenage mother from Overbrook, Kan., Ms. Fluke-Ekren slowly embraced the ideology of the Islamic State and had a penchant for languages, according to Amy Farouk, a former friend.

“It was a way for her to feel important,” Ms. Farouk said. “She gave you a sense of purpose.”

Efforts to reach Ms. Fluke-Ekren’s family in Kansas were unsuccessful. But Ms. Farouk, who said she met Ms. Fluke-Ekren around 2001, filled parts of her life. At the time, Ms. Fluke-Ekren was a teacher at the Greater Kansas City Islamic School.

After Ms. Fluke-Ekren had two children and her first marriage in Kansas fell apart, she met a Turkish international student, Volkan Ekren, at the University of Kansas, where they both majored in science, said the Mrs. Farouk. Ms. Fluke-Ekren graduated in 2007 and then attended a teaching program at Earlham College in Indiana, prosecutors said.

The two eventually got married and had five children together, all born in the United States.

Around 2008, Ms. Fluke-Ekren and Mr. Ekren moved to Cairo, where they lived in the elegant city of Sheikh Zayed, according to Ms. Farouk, who moved there around the same time. “Life was good,” Ms Farouk recalled, noting that her friend was fluent in Arabic.

The family moved to Libya in late 2011, Ms. Farouk said. According to the plea deal, Ms. Fluke-Ekren and her husband lived in Benghazi at the time of the 2012 attacks on an American diplomatic complex and a nearby CIA base. In the aftermath of the attacks, prosecutors said that Mr. Ekren claimed he removed a box of documents and at least one electronic device from the US compound and took them home.

Ms. Fluke-Ekren admitted that she helped him sort the documents and prepare the summaries that were provided to the leaders of Ansar al-Shariah, a terrorist organization accused of leading the attack on the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi. At the end of 2012, the family left Libya because Ansar al-Shariah was no longer conducting attacks in the country, according to the statement of facts.

Shortly thereafter, the couple traveled to Syria, but Ms. Fluke-Ekren returned to Turkey while Mr. Ekren stayed and later supervised Islamic State snipers. She joined him in Syria in 2014, but the following year they moved to Mosul, Iraq, where she helped ISIS manage widows whose husbands had died fighting.

The family returned to Syria and Mr. Ekren was killed in an airstrike while conducting a reconnaissance for a terrorist attack, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said Ms. Fluke-Ekren married another Islamic State terrorist, a Bangladeshi man who specializes in drones and worked on a plan to drop chemical bombs using them. After the death of the man, Wamiq al-Bengali, Ms. Fluke-Ekren married another man from Bangladesh, a military leader of the Islamic State responsible for the defense of Raqqa, Syria. He died while fighting for Isis in 2018.

Ms. Fluke-Ekren admitted she wanted to launch attacks in the United States, including a college that prosecutors have not identified. According to the criminal complaint, her plan was presented Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, then the leader of the Islamic State, who approved the financing. Mr. al-Baghdadi was killed in a 2019 raid by US commandos.

The complaint alleged that Ms. Fluke-Ekren led the battalion in 2016, training children in how to use AK-47 assault rifles, grenades, and suicide belts. A witness saw one of Ms. Fluke-Ekren’s children, who was about five or six years old at the time, wield a machine gun at her home in Syria.

She was smuggled out of Syria in May 2019 and married a fifth time, according to the statement of facts. But the couple separated, and Ms. Fluke-Ekren tried to surrender to local police near Qabasin, Syria. Two weeks later, she was taken to a detention center in Jarabulus, Syria. It is not clear who ran the prison.

Mr. Parekh said Ms. Fluke-Ekren left a “trail of betrayal” and that her family members may want to release statements about the victims when she is sentenced in October. She faces up to 20 years in prison.

When Judge Leonie M. Brinkema mentioned her children, Ms. Fluke-Ekren became visibly upset and began to cry.

Ms. Fluke-Ekren has at least seven children, including five with Mr. Ekren. Federal authorities have brought six of them back to the United States, people familiar with the matter said. At least one child, a son she had with her second husband, was killed in an airstrike in Syria. Her eldest son, who had lived with her in Cairo, returned to Kansas before Ms. Fluke-Ekren went to Libya.

Ms. Fluke-Ekren’s case is part of an aggressive effort by federal prosecutors in Virginia to prosecute captured terrorists overseas.

Mohammed Khalifa, a Canadian of Saudi origin who traveled to Syria in 2013 and later joined the Islamic State, was brought to the United States last year and accused of providing material support to a terrorist organization that resulted in death. Hey later found guilty and face life in prison.

Two British men, El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey, who were part of a notorious British ISIS cell called “the cockroaches”, They were eventually captured and prosecuted. The group kidnapped and tortured more than two dozen hostages, including American journalists James Foley and Steven J. Sotloff, both of whom were beheaded in propaganda videos.

Mr. Kotey found guilty to his role in the deaths of four Americans in Syria and was sentenced to life in prison. in April, a jury sentenced Mr. Elsheikhwho also faces a mandatory life sentence for his part in the brutal kidnapping plan.

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