A Kansas woman who led an all-female Islamic State battalion when she lived in Syria has been sentenced to 20 years in prison – the maximum possible sentence – after her own children denounced her in court and detailed the horrific circumstances and abuse she heaped on them.
Allison Fluke-Ekren, 42, admitted that she led the Khatiba Nusaybah, a battalion in which roughly 100 women and girls – some as young as 10 years old – learned how to use automatic weapons and detonate grenades and suicide belts.
One of Fluke-Ekren’s daughters was among those who said she received such training. The daughter and Fluke-Ekren’s oldest son both urged the judge to impose a maximum sentence.
They said they were physically and sexually abused by their mother, and in letters to the court described the mistreatment in horrific detail. Fluke-Ekren denied the abuse.
The daughter, Leyla Ekren, said “lust for control and power” drove her mother to drag the family halfway across the world to find a terrorist group that would allow Fluke-Ekren to flourish, during a victim impact statement she gave at the hearing.
She said her mother became skilled at hiding the abuse she inflicted. She described an incident in which her mother poured lice medication all over her face as a punishment and it started to blister her face and burn her eyes. Fluke-Ekren then tried to wash the chemicals off her daughter’s face, but Leyla resisted.
“I wanted people to see what kind of person she was. I wanted it to blind me,” she said as her mother sat a few feet away, resting her head on her hand with a look of disbelief. She later glared in the direction of her children after they testified.
Fluke-Ekren’s status as a US-born woman who rose to a level of leadership status in the Islamic State makes her story unique among terror cases. Prosecutors say the abuse she inflicted on her children from a young age helps explain how she went from an 81-acre (33-hectare) farm in Overbrook, Kansas, to an Islamic State leader in Syria, with stops in Egypt and Libya along the way.
Fluke-Ekren asked for just a two-year sentence so she could raise her young children. She said at the outset of a lengthy, weepy speech that she took responsibility for her actions but spent most of her speech rationalizing and minimizing her conduct.
“We just lived a very normal life,” she told the judge about her time in Syria, showing pictures of her kids at a weekly pizza dinner.
She denied the abuse allegations against her, and tried to accuse her oldest son of manipulating her daughter into making them.
She portrayed the Khatiba Nusaybah as something more akin to a community center for women that morphed into a series of self-defense classes as it became clear that the city of Raqqa, the Islamic State stronghold where she lived, faced siege and invasion.
She acknowledged that women and girls were taught to use suicide belts and automatic weapons but portrayed it as safety training to avoid accidents in a war zone where such weapons were common.
Judge Leonie Brinkema, though, made clear she was unimpressed by Fluke-Ekren’s justifications. At one point, Fluke-Ekren explained the need for women to defend themselves against the possibility of rape by enemy soldiers. “Sexual violence is not OK in any circumstance,” she said.
That prompted an interruption from Brinkema, who asked Fluke-Ekren about the daughter’s allegation that she was forced to marry an IS fighter who raped her at the age of 13.
“She was a few weeks away from 14,” Fluke-Ekren responded in protest, later saying, “It was her decision. I never forced her.”
First assistant US attorney Raj Parekh described Fluke-Ekren as an “empress of Isis” whose husbands rose to senior ranks in the Islamic State, often only to be killed in fighting.
Even within the Islamic State, people who knew her described her radicalization as “off the charts”, she said.
Fluke-Ekren’s actions “added a new dimension to the darkest side of humanity”, Parekh said.