Allison Fluke-Ekren seen in a recent photo provided by police (L) and an undated photo (R) from when she was a teenager. Photos courtesy of Alexandria Sheriff’s Department and Larry Miller
A Kansas mother, once described as an “outstanding student” by a former teacher, appeared in US court on Monday to face charges of allegedly leading an all-female ISIS squad.
Allison Fluke-Ekren, 42, a former teacher and mother of several, was airlifted to Alexandria, Virginia over the weekend after being arrested in Syria by the FBI, where she faces charges of terrorism for her role as leader of an all-female ISIS brigade. If convicted of providing and conspiring to provide material support or resources to ISIS, Fluke-Ekren could serve 20 years in federal prison.
In court, Fluke-Ekren looked grim and said she understood the seriousness of the charges against her as the judge read them aloud. After the court granted Fluke-Ekren access to a public defender, US prosecutors asked the courts to bar the suspected ISIS operative from contacting his family living in the US while in custody .
“I know it’s an atypical request,” said a U.S. attorney, “but they don’t want [her] have contact with his family. This includes his father, his mother, his stepmother… his adult children who are here in the United States.
The judge noted that it would be difficult to enforce legally but said, in light of the family’s request, if Fluke-Ekren contacted them against their wishes, it could be considered negative at his bail hearing scheduled for Thursday. .
Part of a federal complaint, first filed in 2019 and unsealed on Saturday, alleges that Fluke-Ekren, who has remarried several times to various ISIS operatives in Syria, was the commander-in-chief of “Khatiba Nusaybah”, an all-female ISIS unit that trained women and children in the use of automatic assault rifles, grenades and suicide belts.
The complaint and associated memorandum also alleged that Fluke-Ekren intended to carry out “violent jihad” in the United States and offered plots to ISIS leaders targeting shopping malls and an unnamed American campus.
The circumstances of Fluke-Ekren’s arrest by the FBI remain unclear. A spokesperson for the office referred all questions about the case to the Justice Department, noting, “We have no additional comment.”
In his press release on the casethe DOJ said Fluke-Ekren had “previously apprehended in Syria and transferred to FBI custody.”
She was a ‘standout’ American student
There’s still a lot we don’t know about Fluke-Ekren, including where and when she became radicalized.
VICE News spoke to now-retired high school biology teacher Larry Miller, who gave him some insight into the Fluke-Ekren he knew. Miller taught her seventh and eighth grades at Topeka Collegiate, a private school in Kansas, in the 1990s. Back then, she went by her maiden name, Allison Brooks.
During his long career as a high school science teacher in public and private schools, Miller thinks he probably taught thousands of children over the years. But Fluke-Ekren, he said, “stand out” and they stayed in touch years later.
“She was special,” he said. “We knew his parents. His parents came to our house; I went to their house. Moreover, she shared some of his passions. “She loved photography, environmental science and herpetology, which is the study of turtles and amphibians,” he said. “She helped me organize field trips when she grew up a bit… My wife was a librarian and also in educational programs. We got to know her well. We thought she was a wonderful person.
A newsletter 1994 of the Kansas Herpetological Society detailed some of the research projects carried out by Miller and his students, including that of Fluke-Ekren (then Brooks). Miller remembered her as popular, getting along well with everyone, and never having expressed radical political or religious views.
In the late 1990s, just a few years after graduating, Fluke-Ekren married in a Methodist church and hired Miller as his wedding photographer.
It is not known why or when her relationship with her first husband, with whom she had two children, fell apart. According to a press article published in a local Kansas newspaper, in 2004, she was married to Volkan Ekren (it is not known if it was the same husband with whom she finally went to Syria). She and her children have been the subject of a story about the growing popularity of homeschooling.
Miller said he and Fluke-Ekren reconnected around 2008, when she emailed him from her work address, which was at a university in Indiana. She shared that she had a wonderful family life, which she remembered from her science classes and eventually pursued a career in biology. She later graduated from the University of Kansas, taught science at a private school for a time, then earned her master’s degree to teach in Indiana. “So much stuff that I was so proud to read,” Miller said. She ended the email: “My greatest hope is that I can pass on to my students the torch of curiosity and excitement that you have given me.”
The following year, she contacted Miller again—she wanted to return to Kansas and wanted to know if he knew of any teaching opportunities. He put her in touch with the principal of a nearby school district who was looking for a science teacher. Miller wasn’t sure what happened next, just that she was offered the job, but ultimately she decided to move abroad to Egypt.
As far as Miller knows, Fluke-Ekren enjoyed his life in Egypt. She had gotten a job as a teacher and told Miller that the students were enthusiastic and genuinely interested in nature. Around this time, a mutual friend introduced her to Marwa Faisal, a biology professor in Cairo (they connected online and met in person once). Faisal, who didn’t know Fluke-Ekren had been arrested until VICE News contacted her, said she only knew she was a “lovely mother and teacher.”
Between 2008 and 2010, Fluke-Ekren ran a “4 Kansas Kids” blog that chronicled her family’s life in Kansas, a brief stint in Egypt, and eventual resettlement in Turkey. She has worked as a teacher in both countries. The last blog post was published in June 2010.
At some point, Miller lost contact with Fluke-Ekren. He had written “Happy Birthday” on his Facebook wall a few years in a row, but hadn’t heard anything back. “No one had heard of her,” Miller said.
From America to Egypt to Syria
The indictment alleges Fluke-Ekren remarried multiple times after her husband was killed while attempting to carry out a terrorist attack for ISIS. One of her husbands – it is unclear which – is said to have been a prominent IS military leader.
It is also unclear exactly when Fluke-Ekren moved to Syria. But according to one of the sources who testified before the FBI, Fluke-Ekren and her family crossed the border from Turkey to Syria in 2014 with the intention of “living in Sharia land.” In 2014, ISIS gained global notoriety when the group captured Mosul from the Iraqi army.
Fluke-Ekren told a witness named in the indictment that she tried to send a message to her family to make them believe she was dead, so that the US government would not try to to regain.
She also told the witness that she never wanted to return to the United States and that she wanted to be martyred in Syria.
According to the indictment, a source told the FBI that he had lived with Fluke-Ekren for several weeks in the Syrian town of Al-Bab, then an ISIS stronghold, in 2014, and alleged that Fluke- Ekren and her husband had brought $15,000 with it and used it to buy AK-47s, grenades and other weapons. The source said Fluke-Ekren’s husband was a sniper trainer for ISIS at the time.
The indictment does not contain any information about the nationality or name of Fluke-Ekren’s husband at this time.
The source goes on to allege that Fluke-Ekren laid out a plan to attack an American college by “dressing like infidels” and planting a backpack full of explosives, adding that she planned to enter the United States. United via Mexico.
The plan, according to Fluke-Ekren, had been approved by then-ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was later killed by a US operation in 2019.
But her plans were put on hold because she found out she was pregnant in late 2014. That didn’t stop her from helping the Islamic State cause, however, as the source who had lived with Fluke-Ekren told the FBI that Fluke-Ekren had been working on translating speeches by the group’s leaders so they could be more widely shared online. Fluke-Ekren was fluent in English, Turkish, Arabic and Spanish, according to another FBI source, who was a family member of Fluke-Ekren.
She was also allegedly responsible for teaching extremist doctrine and training women and children in the use of weapons as well as suicide vests, the first witness said.
In 2016, speaking to a member of her own family who was with her in Syria, Fluke-Ekren suggested parking a vehicle packed with explosives in the basement or parking lot of a shopping mall and triggering the blast with a cell phone, according to the indictment. said.
The witness added that Fluke-Ekren did not pursue such a plan because her then-husband opposed it.
Fluke-Ekren, however, continued to fantasize about attacking places with large crowds of people, according to the witness statement, believing that any attack that does not kill large numbers of people is “a waste of resources”.
Multiple sources told the FBI that Fluke-Ekren’s house was filled with weapons and she was rarely seen unarmed. A witness, who met Fluke-Ekren in the Syrian town of Tabqah, claims to have seen one of Fluke-Ekren’s sons, who was five or six years old at the time, holding a machine gun.
In 2016, Fluke-Ekren appears to have moved to Raqqa, the self-declared capital of ISIS, where she took on a new leadership role within the group.