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US woman pleads guilty to heading all-female Islamic State unit in Syria

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia — An American woman who prosecutors say led an all-female battalion of Islamic State militants in Syria pleads guilty in a case that a prosecutor called a first of its kind in the United States.

Allison Fluke-Ekren breaks down sobbing after admitting in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia to conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, a charge that carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence.

The guilty plea resolves a criminal case that came to light in January after Fluke-Ekren, 42, who once lived in Kansas, was brought to the US to face accusations that she led an Islamic State unit of women and young girls in the Syrian city of Raqqa and trained them in the use of automatic rifles, grenades and suicide belts.

It is the first prosecution in the US of a female Islamic State battalion leader, says First Assistant US Attorney Raj Parekh, who tells a judge that some of the more than 100 women and girls who received training may wish to speak at Fluke-Ekren’s sentencing hearing.

“Some of them may wish [for] an opportunity to address the court because we would argue that there is lifelong trauma and pain that has been inflicted on them,” Parekh says.

Charging documents in the case trace Fluke-Ekren’s travels and activities in the Middle East over the last decade, though they don’t shed light on what inspired her alleged allegiance to foreign militant groups.

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