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Kansas woman led all-female Islamic State battalion, federal prosecutors say

A statue is in front of U.S. Courthouse in Alexandria, Va.
The U.S. attorney in Alexandria, Va., announced that Allison Fluke-Ekren, 42, has been charged with providing material support to a terrorist organization.
(Cliff Owen / Associated Press)
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A woman who once lived in Kansas has been arrested on federal charges, accused of joining Islamic State militants overseas and leading a female battalion of AK-47-wielding fighters.

The U.S. attorney in Alexandria, Va., announced Saturday that Allison Fluke-Ekren, 42, had been charged with providing material support to a terrorist organization.

The criminal complaint was filed under seal in 2019 but was not made public until Saturday, after Fluke-Ekren was brought back to the United States on Friday to face charges.

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Her alleged participation in Islamic State, also known as ISIS, had not been publicly known before Saturday’s announcement.

Prosecutors say Fluke-Ekren wanted to recruit operatives to attack a college campus in the U.S., and also discussed attacking a shopping mall.

She told one witness that “she considered any attack that did not kill a large number of individuals to be a waste of resources,” according to an FBI affidavit.

That affidavit, from FBI Special Agent David Robins, also alleges that Fluke-Ekren became the leader of an Islamic State unit called Khatiba Nusaybah in Raqqah, Syria, in late 2016. The all-female unit was trained in the use of AK-47 rifles, grenades and suicide belts.

The affidavit cites observations from six witnesses, including some who have been charged with terrorism offenses and some who were held at prison camps for former Islamic State members.

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A detention memo filed Friday by Raj Parekh, first assistant U.S. attorney for Virginia’s Eastern District, alleges that Fluke-Ekren even trained children in the use of assault rifles, and that at least one witness saw one of Fluke-Ekren’s own children, approximately 5 or 6 years old, holding a machine gun in the family’s home in Syria.

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“Fluke-Ekren has been a fervent believer in the radical terrorist ideology of ISIS for many years, having traveled to Syria to commit or support violent jihad,” Parekh wrote. “Fluke-Ekren translated her extremist beliefs into action by serving as the appointed leader and organizer of an ISIS military battalion, directly training women and children in the use of AK-47 assault rifles, grenades, and suicide belts to support the Islamic State’s murderous aims.”

According to court papers, Fluke-Ekren moved to Egypt in 2008 and traveled frequently between Egypt and the United States over the next three years. She was last in the U.S. in 2011.

Prosecutors believe she moved to Syria around 2012. Her husband was killed in the Syrian city of Tal Abyad in early 2016 while trying to carry out a terrorist attack, according to prosecutors. They say that later that year, she married a Bangladeshi member of Islamic State who specialized in drones, but that he died in late 2016 or early 2017.

Four months after his death, she married a prominent Islamic State leader who was responsible for the group’s defense of Raqqah.

Fluke-Ekren told one witness in 2018 that she had instructed a person in Syria to tell her family she was dead so the U.S. government would not try to find her, according to Parekh’s memo.

Photos from a family blog called 4KansasKids show Fluke-Ekren and her children in the years they traveled between Kansas and Egypt, posing at the base of the pyramids in Egypt and playing in the snow in the U.S.

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A 2004 article about home-schooling in the Lawrence, Kan., Journal- World featured Fluke-Ekren and her children. She told the paper she had begun teaching her kids at home because she was dissatisfied with how they were performing in public and private schools, and that home-schooling was allowing them to learn Arabic.

Court papers do not indicate how she was captured, or how long she was in custody before being turned over to the FBI on Friday.

Fluke-Ekren is scheduled to make an initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Alexandria on Monday, at which time she will probably be appointed an attorney.

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