- Allison Fluke-Ekren represented a rare female leader in an Islamic terrorist group.
- After leaving Kansas, she moved from Egypt to Libya, Syria and Iraq.
- Fluke-Ekren faces 20 years in prison when sentenced Oct. 25.
WASHINGTON – A US woman pleaded guilty Tuesday to organizing and leading a female military battalion in Syria, which experts said is rare.
Allison Fluke-Ekren, 42, a former resident of Kansas, traveled overseas and engaged in terrorism-related activities in Syria, Libya and Iraq from September 2019 through May 2019, according to prosecutors.
She eventually served as leader and organizer of a military battalion known as Khatiba Nusaybah, where she trained women to use AK-47 assault rifles, grenades and suicide belts, according to prosecutors. More than 100 women and children as young as 10 were trained by Fluke-Ekren.
Fluke-Ekren pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. US District Judge Leonie Brinkema set sentencing for Oct. 25, when she faces 20 years in prison.
International terrorism charges against women are extremely rare, according to experts, because men tend to dominate the misogynistic groups such as al-Qaida, the Islamic 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 last decade of US citizens or permanent residents revealed women shedding traditional caretaker roles to recruit fellow warriors, train others to use rifles and explosives, and even kill.
More:Allison Fluke-Ekren is a rarity to experts: A US woman alleged to have a senior role in ISIS
Fluke-Ekren moved to Egypt in 2008 with her second husband, a now-deceased former member of the terrorist organization Ansar al-Sharia, according to prosecutors. She moved in 2011 to Libya, where she had lived with her second husband, who claimed to have removed at least one box of documents and an electronic device from the US Special Mission and CIA Annex in Benghazi, when it was attacked Sept. 11, 2012, according to prosecutors.
Fluke-Ekren and her second husband moved in 2012 to Syria, where he became a leader of Islamic State snipers, according to prosecutors. In mid-2014, Fluke-Ekren told a government witness about plans to bomb a US shopping mall or college, according to prosecutors.
In mid-2016, Fluke-Ekren led and organized an effort to establish a Women’s Center in Raqqa, Syria. The center provided medical services, educational services about the Islamic State, childcare, and various training to women and young girls.
As the center’s leader, Fluke-Ekren also provided and assisted other female ISIS members in providing training to numerous women and young girls on the use of automatic firing AK-47 assault rifles, grenades and explosive suicide belts, according to prosecutors.
In late 2016, the ISIS “Wali” of Raqqa approved the creation of the “Khatiba Nusaybah” – a military battalion to be understood solely of female ISIS members. Witnesses said the battalion also provided certain members with instruction on physical training including martial arts, medical training and religious classes, and how to pack and prep a travel bag with rifles and other military supplies, according to prosecutors.
First Assistant US Attorney Raj Parekh and Assistant US Attorney John Gibbs led the prosecution in the eastern district of Virginia.
Anne Speckhard, the director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism, questioned whether Fluke-Ekren should have been charged with or pleaded guilty to such serious terrorism charges.
“The fact that she admits to being the leader of the Khatiba Nusaybah and organized weapons training for women is a damning confession,” said Speckhard, who has worked with US, NATO and United Nations counter-terrorism agencies. She has personally interviewed at least 273 ISIS members, mostly in Iraq and Syria.
“However, as it appears from her statements that she organized these trainings mainly on behalf of self-defense, this brings the battleground context into mind as we all know that ISIS was a heinous and brutal terrorist organization but few realize that (Syrian President Bashar ) Assad’s armies, government and prisons have carried out far more atrocities in Syria than ISIS ever did,” Speckhard told USA TODAY.
“Assad’s soldiers were known to rape, so it would stand for reason that Fluke-Ekren would organize weapons training and self-defense for the women – perhaps not in the name of offensive terrorist acts but for self-defense, especially since ISIS men would typically spend two weeks in battle leaving behind the women and children.”
“That said, I’ve heard from one of the ISIS women I’ve interviewed, who knew her, and it appears the FBI knows the same, that Fluke-Ekren made statements of being capable and desiring to organize an ISIS attack inside the US,” Speckhard said. “As her case proceeds it will be interesting to learn how much a terrorist she really was and what price she will pay for it.”
Contributing: Josh M