From Kansas school teacher to Islamic State battalion leader
On a scale of one to 10 of jihadist radicalization, an American woman alleged to have led an all-female Islamic State battalion in Syria was described by someone who knew her there as an "11 or a 12."
Allison Fluke-Ekren, 42, a school teacher who grew up on a farm in Kansas, made a brief appearance in a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, on Thursday facing terrorism charges.
Fluke-Ekren, who was dressed in a black headscarf and a green T-shirt reading "Alexandria Inmate," was ordered to be held in detention until trial.
The trajectory of the midwestern woman who was born Allison Brooks and came to be known by the nom de guerre Umm Mohammed al-Amriki has been outlined in court documents, her personal blog and newspaper articles.
While other Americans traveled to Syria and Iraq to join the now defunct Islamic Caliphate, most were men and Fluke-Ekren is the rare American woman who occupied a senior position in the ranks of the Islamic State.
Brooks grew up in Topeka, Kansas, and was remembered by one of her former teachers as a bright student who was "good at everything."
"Never would any of us who knew her back then ever thought she would end up as she has today," Larry Miller, a retired science teacher, told the Topeka Capital-Journal. "That's not the person I knew when I knew her."
Miller served as the wedding photographer for Brooks' marriage in a Methodist church to a local man named Fluke.
They had two children who are now adults and who have told prosecutors they do not want any contact with their mother.
Brooks went on to marry a man named Volkan Ekren with whom she had at least three more children.
Now known as Fluke-Ekren, she studied at the University of Kansas and then earned a master's degree in teaching from a college in Indiana.
In a 2004 article in the Lawrence Journal-World, Fluke-Ekren is shown wearing a headscarf while home-schooling her two eldest children. Their studies included learning Arabic from a tutor three days a week.
Fluke-Ekren and her husband moved to Egypt in 2008. Her personal blog still available online shows pictures of the family celebrating birthdays, taking a cruise on the Nile and visiting the Pyramids.
The family moved to Libya in 2011 and lived there for a year, according to the criminal complaint against her.
A former friend identified only as Farouk told ABC News she believed Fluke-Ekren became radicalized while living in the Middle East.
"She was very sympathetic toward the Islamic states, and how they were doing the right thing and how we needed to, you know, support the women and children," Farouk said. "She really felt people were being harmed by a larger force."
- 'Engage in violent jihad' -
In 2012, Fluke-Ekren moved to Syria along with several of her children because she "wished to engage in violent jihad" and live in the "land of Sharia," according to the criminal complaint.
While in Syria, Fluke-Ekren, who is fluent in Arabic, translated speeches by Islamic State leaders to be disseminated online, the complaint said.
She also organized an all-female IS military battalion known as the Khatiba Nusaybah to train women in the use of AK-47 assault rifles, grenades, and suicide belts, it said.
An unidentified cooperating witness who interacted with Fluke-Ekren in Syria was asked how radicalized she was. "Off the charts," they replied, -- an "11 or a 12" on a scale of one to 10.
The same person said more than 100 women and young girls received military training from Fluke-Ekren in Syria.
According to the complaint, Fluke-Ekren sought to recruit operatives for an attack on a US college campus or a shopping mall using an explosives-packed vehicle.
"Fluke-Ekren allegedly considered any attack that did not kill a large number of individuals to be a waste of resources," it said.
Fluke-Ekren's husband, an IS sniper trainer, was killed in Syria in 2015 "attempting to conduct a terrorist attack on behalf of IS," according to the complaint.
It is not clear from the charging documents whether this was Volkan Ekren or whether she had remarried.
In 2016, she married a Bangladeshi IS member who specialized in drones, according to the complaint. One of his projects was attaching chemical weapons on drones.
He died shortly afterward and four months after his death, Fluke-Erken married a "prominent IS military leader" who was responsible for IS's defense of Raqqa, the former IS capital.
According to the Justice Department, Fluke-Ekren was "apprehended in Syria" and flown to the United States on January 28 from an undisclosed location on a US government plane.
If convicted of providing material support to IS, she faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.