American woman pleads guilty to leading ISIS battalion
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An American woman who prosecutors say led an all-female battalion of Islamic State militants in Syria pleaded guilty on Tuesday in a case a prosecutor called the first of its kind in the United States.
Allison Fluke-Ekren broke down in tears after admitting in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia to conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, a charge that carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
The guilty plea resolves a criminal case that came to light in January after Fluke-Ekren, 42, who once lived in Kansas, was brought to the United States to face charges that she ran a women’s unit and young girls from the Islamic State in the Syrian town. of Raqqa and trained them in the use of automatic rifles, grenades and suicide belts.
This is the first prosecution in the United States of a female Islamic State battalion commander, said first assistant US attorney Raj Parekh, who told a judge that some of the more than 100 women and girls who have received training may wish to speak up at Fluke-Ekren’s sentencing. hearing.
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“Some of them might wish they had the opportunity to address the court because we would say there is lifelong trauma and pain inflicted on them,” Parekh said.
The charging documents in the case trace Fluke-Ekren’s travels and activities in the Middle East over the past decade, though they don’t shed light on what inspired his alleged allegiance to groups foreign activists.
She had been in Syria since late 2012 or early 2013, where, according to a witness cited in court documents, she spoke openly about her desire to carry out an attack in the United States, including parking an explosive-laden car in a garage. mall underground. mall. Another witness said Fluke-Ekren spoke of a desire to bomb a college campus.
Prosecutors say that after Fluke-Ekren’s second husband, identified in court documents as a member of the militant group Ansar al-Sharia, was killed in an airstrike in Syria in February 2016, she ran a center which offered medical services and child care – but also advanced weapons training – to dozens of women and girls.
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His all-female battalion, known as Khatiba Nusaybah, began operations in 2017, with the aim of teaching female Islamic State members how to defend themselves against the group’s enemies, prosecutors say.
According to court documents, she continued her affiliation with the Islamic State until the spring of 2019, when she was clandestinely expelled from ISIS territory. Fluke-Ekren said she tried to go to a local police station last summer because she wanted to leave Syria, and about two weeks later was arrested at her home and then jailed. .
A criminal complaint against Fluke-Ekren was filed under seal in the United States in 2019 but was not made public until she was brought to Virginia in January to face charges.
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Fluke-Ekren, who told the court she had a master’s degree in teaching in the United States, moved to Egypt with her second husband in 2008 and lived in Benghazi, Libya in the fall of 2012, when an attack on US government facilities resulted in the deaths of four Americans. Fluke-Ekren allegedly had no role in the attack, but prosecutors say she helped her second husband review and summarize documents he says were stolen from the US compound.
Fluke-Ekren admitted the bulk of the government’s allegations against her, although at one point she suggested that one of the witnesses named in the court documents was young at the time they spoke and may have had a different understanding of their conversations. She also suggested that she did not intentionally train young girls.