Kansas woman allegedly led an all-female IS group battalion, says US Justice Department
A 42-year-old American woman has been arrested and charged with organising and leading an armed all-female battalion on behalf of the Islamic State (IS) group.
The official charges against Fluke-Ekren accuse her of providing material support to the IS group, designated as a foreign terrorist organisation in the US.
The US Justice Department said that Fluke-Ekren had been previously apprehended in Syria, but was transferred into the custody of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on Friday.
Court filings do not indicate how she was captured, or how long she was in custody before being turned over to the FBI.
Her alleged participation in the IS group had not been publicly known before Saturday’s announcement.
A former resident of Kansas, Fluke-Ekren travelled to Syria several years ago "for the purpose of committing or supporting terrorism", the US attorney's office said.
"Since her departure from the United States, Fluke-Ekren has allegedly been involved with a number of terrorism-related activities on behalf of ISIS from at least 2014," the office alleged, using an alternative acronym for the IS group.
"These activities allegedly include, but are not limited to, planning and recruiting operatives for a potential future attack on a college campus inside the United States and serving as the appointed leader and organiser of an ISIS military battalion, known as the Khatiba Nusaybah, in order to train women on the use of automatic firing AK-47 assault rifles, grenades, and suicide belts," the statement continued.
She is also accused of providing the group "with services", which included providing lodging, translating speeches made by IS group leaders, and teaching extremist IS doctrine to children.
Planning an attack on US soil
The Justice Department said it had collected at least six individual eyewitness accounts that back up its charges against Fluke-Ekren, most of which alleged "terrorist conduct" from at least 2014 through approximately 2017.
"For example, Fluke-Ekren allegedly told a witness about her desire to conduct an attack in the United States," the statement detailed.
"To conduct the attack, Fluke-Ekren allegedly explained that she could go to a shopping mall in the United States, park a vehicle full of explosives in the basement or parking garage level of the structure, and detonate the explosives in the vehicle with a cell phone triggering device. Fluke-Ekren allegedly considered any attack that did not kill a large number of individuals to be a waste of resources."
The witnesses also claimed she had given military training to more than 100 women and young girls.
'Fluke-Ekren allegedly considered any attack that did not kill a large number of individuals to be a waste of resources'
- US Justice Department
A detention memo filed Friday and made public on Saturday states that Fluke-Ekren trained children - including her own five or six-year-old child - how to use assault rifles in Syria.
In Friday's court filing, First Assistant US Attorney Raj Parekh accused Fluke-Ekren of having been "a fervent believer in the radical terrorist ideology of ISIS for many years".
"Fluke-Ekren translated her extremist beliefs into action by serving as the appointed leader and organiser 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," Parekh wrote.
According to the filing, Fluke-Ekren moved to Egypt in 2008 and travelled frequently between Egypt and the US over the next three years.
Prosecutors said she moved to Syria around 2012 and stopped all travel to the US. At that time, she married a man who was killed in Syria's Tel Abyad in 2016 while trying to carry out an attack, court documents allege. A few months later she allegedly married a Bangladeshi IS fighter who specialised in drones before he died in late 2016 or early 2017.
Soon after that man’s death, she married again, this time to a prominent IS leader who was responsible for the group’s defence of Raqqa, US prosecutors said.
According to one of the witnesses cited in Friday's filing, in 2018 she instructed a person in Syria to tell her family that she was dead so the US government would not try to find her.
Fluke-Ekren is expected to have her initial appearance at the federal courthouse in Alexandria on Monday at 2pm, local time.