Accused American ISIS leader 'highly intelligent' and 'marksman': Former friend

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(ALEXANDRIA, Va.) -- The Kansas woman who allegedly "fantasized" about committing an attack against the United States was a "highly intelligent" mom and teacher who became increasingly radicalized when she lived overseas and sowed division in her family, a former friend of hers told ABC News.

Allison Fluke-Ekren, accused of training ISIS fighters and providing support for the terrorist group, appeared briefly in federal court in Virginia Monday and was held without bail until her detention hearing later in the week. The Justice Department said Fluke-Ekren, who the friend described as a "marksman" who "liked being in charge," expressed interest in terror attacks on six occasions from 2014 to 2017, including a mall and U.S.-based university.

One former friend, who said she last spoke to Fluke-Ekren more than 10 years ago, painted a picture of a woman who was close with her family but then became increasingly radicalized. Fluke-Ekren was arrested in Syria, where she moved a decade ago and married a "prominent" ISIS leader, according to court documents.

"I told people who she was friends with in Kansas, I told them, 'This girl is radicalized,'" said the former friend, who agreed to be identified by her last name, Farouk. Farouk knew Fluke-Ekren while she lived in Kansas and then as a teacher in the Middle East.

She said that Fluke-Ekren was a "good mom" and that their children were close, but that living in the Middle East as a teacher during the unrest of the Arab Spring and ensuing refugee crisis deeply impacted her.

She recalled that at one point, "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, that sort of stuff."

"I think that she really felt people were being harmed by a larger force. And she felt the need, she had to jump in," Farouk added.

She said that she relayed her concerns to people who knew Fluke-Ekren, but was dismissed.

"And they told me, 'No, that's not true. How can you say that?'" Farouk said. "And it made me like, it really made me second guess myself. And you start to believe like, 'Oh, you know, maybe, maybe I'm crazy.'"

She said what she saw disturbed her.

"I was thinking, 'This is not good.' I had seen it, watched her transformation," Farouk added.

Court documents unsealed in the Eastern District of Virginia on Friday night say that Fluke-Ekren had a collection of guns at her home in Syria, according to an informant who had been in her Syrian house. The documents were from 2019, but were unsealed after her arrest.

The Justice Department has accused Fluke-Ekren of training female ISIS fighters and even leading an all-female ISIS battalion.

Farouk told ABC News that Fluke-Ekren grew up on a farm, and that "she was a marksman, she was an extremely good shooter."

"She was highly intelligent," Farouk recalled and "she liked being in charge, she liked running her own show and making her own decisions."

The case is unusual because generally, it is men who radicalize women.

"The thing that makes it rare is not just that it was a female. And not just that it was a couple that radicalized according to what we know from witnesses," Tony Mattivi, the former DOJ national security coordinator for the District of Kansas, told ABC News by phone on Monday. "But that she seemed to be the one that was the driving force in radicalization -- usually it's the male. So those two things together make it very unusual."

"The thing that makes it in my view most concerning is that this is an American citizen, who either after radicalizing or while radicalizing travels overseas, and then engages in recruitment efforts, and then is attempting to direct attacks back inside the United States, using knowledge that she gathered while she was here," he continued.

Prosecutors told the judge during the hearing in Virginia Monday that members of Fluke-Ekren's family, including her mother and father, have requested she not contact them.

The judge said he couldn't order her not to call them, but advised that her conduct while in custody could be used against her in court.

Farouk said she believed that Fluke-Ekren's maternal instinct and the discord in the Middle East was the catalyst for radicalization.

"Watching the refugees in Syria, seeing the discord in Libya, I think all that freaked her out," she said. "She moved to Turkey, she was watching the refugees and the stories of the refugees packed with people, buses packed with people we would see that all the time. I think it definitely impacted her."

ABC News' Quinn Owen contributed to this report.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022 at 6:34AM by Desiree Adib and Luke Barr, ABC News Permalink