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Prosecutors reveal link between terror defendant in northern Virginia and Islamic State 'empress'

Jail
Posted at 12:27 PM, May 11, 2023

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A northern Virginia man arrested on terrorism charges has a husband-wife relationship with another American who was dubbed by authorities as an “ empress of ISIS ” for her work to establish an all-female battalion of the Islamic State, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Mohammed Chhipa, 33, of Springfield, Virginia, was arrested last week on charges that he provided support to a terrorist group. Prosecutors allege that he transferred nearly $200,000 in cryptocurrency, with some of that money traced back to the Islamic State, to support Chhipa's stated goal of helping smuggle female ISIS members from detention camps. Other funds remain unaccounted for.

At a detention hearing Wednesday, prosecutors also disclosed a relationship between Chhipa and Allison Fluke-Ekren, an American from Kansas who is serving a 20-year prison sentence. Fluke-Ekren pleaded guilty last year to organizing and leading the Khatiba Nusaybah, a battalion in which roughly 100 women and girls — some as young as 10 — learned how to use automatic weapons and detonate grenades and suicide belts.

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FILE - This undated photo provided by the Alexandria, Va., Sheriff's Office shows Mohammed Chhipa of Springfield, Va., a naturalized U.S. citizen from India who is charged with providing material support to terrorists by funneling money to the Islamic State group. At a detention hearing Wednesday, May 10, 2023, prosecutors also disclosed a relationship between Chhipa and Allison Fluke-Ekren, an American from Kansas who is serving a 20-year prison sentence. (Alexandria Sheriff's Office via AP)

Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Aminoff told the judge that Chhipa considers himself to be married to Fluke-Ekren, although the marriage was apparently conducted online and has no legal status in the U.S. He said Chhipa, a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from India, has been trying to adopt Fluke-Ekren's children.

Court documents in Fuke-Ekren's case do not mention Chhipa by name, but also indicate that Fluke-Ekren considered herself to be married to a man she met online. It is not clear that the two have ever met in person.

Whatever the relationship between Chhipa and Fluke-Ekren, the charges against Chhipa appear unrelated to that relationship. Prosecutors say that between November 2019 and July 2022, Chhipa used virtual currency to transfer more than $188,000 to accounts known and unknown. An FBI affidavit states that some money remains unaccounted for but that $18,000 went to wallets known to be used by ISIS women located in Syria, while $61,000 went to cryptocurrency wallets in Turkey. The affidavit states that money intended to arrive in Syria is often routed through Turkey.

Terror Financing
FILE - This undated photo provided by the Alexandria, Va., Sheriff's Office in January 2022 shows Allison Fluke-Ekren. At a detention hearing Wednesday, May 10, 2023, prosecutors disclosed a husband-wife relationship between Mohammed Chhipa, a northern Virginia man arrested last week on terrorism charges, and Fluke-Ekren, an American from Kansas, serving a 20-year prison sentence, who was dubbed by authorities as an “empress of ISIS” for her work to establish an all-female battalion of the Islamic State. (Alexandria Sheriff's Office via AP, File)

The affidavit quotes text messages sent by Chhipa indicating he wanted the money to be used to bribe guards at detention camps where families of Islamic State fighters are still being held.

The affidavit says Chhipa also met with an FBI “controlled persona” — either an undercover agent or a confidential source — and accepted cash from the individual. Chhippa then transferred the money to Bitcoin and sent it directly to a known ISIS member, according to the affidavit.

Chhipa has been under investigation for years. Indeed, prosecutors say he fled to Egypt in August 2019, fearing he would be arrested after his home was raided. He was brought back to the U.S. after authorities contacted Interpol, but he was not charged until Monday. Prosecutors say Chhiipa continued to engage in illegal conduct after he returned to the U.S., even though he know he was drawing authorities' scrutiny.

Family members who attended Wednesday's hearing did not comment, but passed out a written statement supporting him. The statement described Chhipa “as tirelessly working for the betterment of women and children” and said he "has been targeted by false allegations.

U.S. Magistrate Judge John Anderson ruled at the conclusion of Wednesday's hearing that Chhipa should remain jailed while he awaits trial.

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