They said they were physically and sexually abused by their mother and described the abuse in detail in letters to the court. Fluke-Ekren denied the abuse.
The daughter, Leyla Ekren, said her mother’s “lust for control and power” drove her to drag the family halfway around the world to find a terrorist group that would allow Fluke-Ekren to flourish, when of a victim impact statement she gave in court.
She said her mother had become good at hiding the abuse she inflicted. She described a circumstance where her mother poured off-brand lice medicine on her face as punishment and it started blistering her face and burning her eyes. Fluke-Ekren then tried to wash the chemicals off her daughter’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 an incredulous look. After her children testified, she looked in their direction.
Fluke-Ekren’s status as an American-born woman who achieved leadership status in the Islamic State makes her story unique among terrorism cases. Prosecutors say the abuse she inflicted on her children from a young age helps explain how she rose from an 81-acre farm in Overbrook, Kansas, to leader of the Islamic State in Syria, with stops in Egypt and Libya along the way.
First Assistant US Attorney Raj Parekh said Fluke-Ekren’s family sent her to an elite private school in Topeka and she grew up in a stable home. Parekh said Fluke-Ekren’s immediate family was unanimous in their desire to see her punished whenever possible, a circumstance the veteran prosecutor described as extremely rare.
“There is nothing in Fluke-Ekren’s background that can explain his conduct, which was motivated by bigotry, power, manipulation, delusional invincibility and extreme cruelty,” Parekh said.
Fluke-Ekren only asked for a two-year sentence to be able to raise her young children. She said at the start of a long, tearful speech that she took responsibility for her actions before rationalizing and downplaying her conduct.
“We just lived a very normal life,” she told the judge of her time in Syria, showing pictures of her children at a weekly pizza dinner.
She denied the abuse allegations and tried to accuse her eldest son of manipulating her daughter into making them.
She described the Khatiba Nusaybah as something closer to a community center for women that turned into a series of self-defense classes when it became clear that the city of Raqqa, the state’s stronghold Islam where she lived, was facing an invasion.
She acknowledged that women and girls were taught to use suicide belts and automatic weapons, but described it as safety training to avoid accidents in a war zone where such weapons were common.
Judge Leonie Brinkema, however, made it clear that she was not impressed with Fluke-Ekren’s justifications. At one point, Fluke-Ekren explained the need for women to defend themselves against the possibility of being raped by enemy soldiers. “Sexual violence is not acceptable under any circumstances,” she said.
Brinkema interrupted to ask Fluke-Ekren about the girl’s allegation that she was forced to marry an Islamic State fighter who raped her when she was 13.
“She was 14 weeks away,” Fluke-Ekren replied in protest, later saying, “It was her decision. I never forced her.
Parekh described Fluke-Ekren as an “Islamic State empress” whose husbands rose to higher ranks in the Islamic State, often only to be killed in battle.
Even within the Islamic State, people who knew Fluke-Ekren described her radicalization as “outside the box” and other terrorist groups refused her plan to form a women’s battalion until she found finally a taker in the Islamic State, Parekh said.
Fluke-Ekren’s actions “have added a new dimension to the darker side of humanity,” Parekh said.
In addition to training the battalion, Fluke-Ekren admitted that while living in Libya she helped translate, edit and summarize documents taken from US diplomatic facilities after the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi.