Washington – A Kansas woman pleaded guilty to one count of providing support to theon Tuesday, admitting she discussed planning an attack on an American college and trained over one hundred fighters in an all-female contingent in Syria.
, 42 — described in charging documents as a mother and teacher-turned ISIS battalion leader — was last in the U.S. on January 8, 2011, government travel records show, before she traveled to Egypt and Libya and then ultimately emerged in Syria in 2014.
Once in Syria, according to one of at least six government witnesses who say they interacted with her, Ekren presented a plan of attack to a paid U.S. foreign government source. That plan, Ekren admitted in court Tuesday, was to target an American college campus in the Midwest with explosives. Although Ekren said the plan had been presented to the then-leader of ISIS,, it was ultimately put on hold, the initial charging documents said.
The defendant, who went by the name Umm Mohammed al-Amriki, also spent time in Mosul, Iraq, when it was controlled by ISIS fighters.
In support of the terrorist organization, Ekren stated that she had trained women and some young women on the use of AK-47 assault rifles, grenades, and suicide belts. She also commanded Khatiba Nusaybah, the all-female group of fighters trained to perpetuate the Islamic State's mission.
Investigators alleged in court filings earlier this year that a witness characterized the Kansas-native as "off the charts" radicalized, an "11 or a 12" on a scale of one to 10.
Fluke-Ekren, who studied biology at the University of Kansas and also attended a college in Indiana, clarified in court on Monday that her group did not intentionally train young girls on the weapons, but they may have been part of the crowd. First Assistant U.S. Attorney Raj Parekh revealed in court that young girls had testified before a grand jury under oath that they had received training from Fluke-Ekren.
During an interaction with another government witness in Syria as described in plea papers, Ekren presented an attack that would have involved parking a car full of explosives in a shopping mall parking garage and detonating the bomb with a cellphone trigger.
She "considered any attack that did not kill a large number of individuals to be a waste of resources," according to witness statements included in the plea papers.
The attack on the parking garage was also abandoned after Ekren's then-husband was said to have objected.
Plea documents also reveal Ekren's second husband was a member of Ansar al-Sharia, the terrorist organization that claimed responsibility for the deadly attack on an American compound in Benghazi, Libya that year. Following the attack, her husband brought home a box of documents from the U.S. government buildings, and together, the couple examined the contents of the box. Ekren admitted in the plea documents that her husband, who was killed in an airstrike, later delivered the American papers to officials in the terror group.
The couple then left Libya, "because at the time, they believed Asnar al-Sharia was no longer conducting attacks there, and they wished to engage in violent jihad elsewhere," according to the plea agreement.
In the summer of 2016, according the court documents, Fluke-Ekren married her third husband, a Bangladeshi ISIS member who built drones for ISIS and worked "attaching chemical weapons onto drones to drop chemical bombs from the air." He was later killed. Fluke-Ekren was married five times, the documents revealed.
Fluke-Ekren admitted that she continued her affiliation with ISIS until May 2019, ultimately turning herself into local Syrian police in the summer of 2021. She was transferred into U.S. custody on January 28, 2022, and now faces a maximum of 20 years in prison as a result of her plea.
In court Monday, the defendant tearfully admitted to her conduct, breaking down when Judge Leonie Brinkema mentioned her children. "I understand this has been an emotional decision for you," Brinkema said after telling Fluke-Ekren of the rights she was waiving in pleading guilty.
Parekh told the court that Fluke-Ekren's American family say she left a "trail of betrayal" and may issue statements to that effect at sentencing, which is currently set for October.
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