Kansas mom gets 20 years for leading Islamic State battalion

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — A Kansas native 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, now adults, both urged the judge to impose the maximum sentence.

They said they were physically and sexually abused by their mother, and described the mistreatment in detail in letters to the court. Fluke-Ekren denied the abuse.

The daughter, Leyla Ekren, said “lust for control and power” drove her mother to drag the family half way 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 a circumstance where her mother poured an off-brand 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 daughers’s face, but Leyla Ekren 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. After her children testified, she glared in their direction.

Fluke-Ekren’s status as a U.S.-born woman who rose to a 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.

First Assistant U.S. Attorney Raj Parekh said Fluke-Ekren’s family sent her to an elite private school in Topeka and that she grew up in a stable home. Parekh said Fluke-Ekren’s immediate family was unanimous in its desire to see her punished to the maximum extent possible, a circumstance the veteran prosecutor described as extremely rare.

“There is nothing in Fluke-Ekren’s background that can explain her conduct, which was driven by fanaticism, power, manipulation, delusional invincibility, and extreme cruelty,” Parekh said.

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 takes responsibility for her actions before 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, 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 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.

Brinkema interrupted to ask Fluke-Ekren about the daughter’s allegation that she was forced to marry an Islamic State 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.”

Parekh described Fluke-Ekren as an “empress of ISIS” whose husbands rose to senior ranks in the Islamic State, often to be killed in fighting.

Even within the Islamic State, people who knew Fluke-Ekren described her radicalization as “off the charts” and other terrorist groups refused her plans to form a female battalion until she finally found a taker in the Islamic State, Parekh said.

Fluke-Ekren’s actions “added a new dimension to the darkest side of humanity,” Parekh said.

In addition to forming the battalion, Fluke-Ekren admitted that while living in Libya, she helped translate, review and summarize documents taken from U.S. diplomatic facilities after the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi.

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The spelling of Leyla Ekren’s first name has been corrected.

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