Orlando Gunman's Widow Unwitting, Unloved: Defense - NBC Southern California
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Orlando Gunman's Widow Unwitting, Unloved: Defense

Her defense paints her as an unwitting, unloved wife who had no idea what her husband — her second one — was up to.

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    The FBI has arrested the wife of Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen. Noor Salman was taken into custody in San Francisco. Salman is charged with aiding and abetting by providing material support to a terrorist organization and obstruction of justice, Orlando police said. (Published Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017)

    A lawyer for the widow of the Orlando nightclub gunman filed court papers on Tuesday seeking that she be allowed to temporarily relocate from the Bay Area with her mom to Florida as she awaits trial for allegedly aiding and abetting her husband, who in June killed 49 people in the worst mass shooting in modern American history.

    However, the Oakland-based U.S. District Court in Oakland Magistrate Judge Donna M. Ryu on Wednesday postponed the decision on whether Noor Salman should be allowed to do so, pending a mental evaluation. No future date was set, although both parties thought the test might take about two weeks.

    Salman cried throughout the hearing, and waved to her family in the courtroom seats, where the defense painted her as a simple-minded pawn and the prosecution painted her as a knowing accomplice, even giving her husband a  cover story.

    The 16-page motion seeking Salman’s conditional release for the first time details her background from the defense team's point of view, as an abused wife. The motion explains what she thought was happening in the days and weeks before the massacre, in which her husband, Omar Mateen, was killed by police, and paints her as an unwitting, unloved wife who had no idea what he was up to.

    Federal prosecutors have charged Salman with obstruction of justice and aiding and abetting her husband, Omar Mateen. They are seeking her extradition to Florida, where the case will be tried. She had plead not guilty.

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    But on Wednesday, Assistant U.S. attorney Sara Sweeney called Salman a "calculated and callous" person. Sweeney said Salman knew about her late  husband's plans, cased possible target locations and created a false cover story, saying if your mom calls you, "tell her you're out to dinner with friends." Sweeney said Salman told FBI agents she saw Mateen leave their home with a firearm and backpack full of ammunition. She said Mateen was "pumped up" and told her "this is the day." In an interview with the FBI, Sweeney said Salman said: "I knew when he left he was going to commit the attack." Sweeney also said Salman admitted to "casing activities" before the attack.  In fact, the couple went to Pulse in Orlando and to Downtown Disney where she said her husband asked her "what would make more people upset, an attack at Downtown Disney or at a club?"

    Salman's lawyers, however, countered those charges.

    Charles D. Swift, a lawyer for the Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America in Richardson, Texas, wrote that Mateen was the one who attacked the club on June 12, and that the media have “erroneously” reported that his widow, Salman, drove him to the club on a purported scouting trip.

    Instead, Swift said, the evidence will show that the trip actually occurred while the family had been baby-sitting a relative and her husband drove by the nightclub on their way home one night. She didn’t have a driver’s license and was a “reluctant passenger” who wanted to go home.

    The defense also said Salman was present when Mateen was buying ammunition at a local Wal-mart, but only because she thought they were there to make copies of keys for their condo. While they were there, according to the motion, she shopped for a toy for their son while he was in the sporting goods section. When she asked her husband why he was buying ammunition, he said he needed to train for his job as a security guard, according to the motion.

    Because she was not privy or party to the attack, Swift wants Salman to be released into the custody of her mother, Ekbal Salman, or her uncle, Abdallah Salman. She would be required to live in Florida, and her mother said she is willing to live there temporarily as she awaits trial, according to the motion. The case is being prosecuted there, but is being argued in Oakland, as Salman, a 30-year-old mother of Palestinian descent, was arrested in her mother’s Rodeo, California, home on Jan. 16 by FBI agents.

    Salman is described in the motion as a woman without strong convictions in her Muslim faith, never fasting, wearing a hijab or studying Islam. She also had no interest in politics. 

    Born in Richmond to a business owner with three other daughters, she struggled with learning disabilities and was enrolled in special education classes, according to her former algebra teacher at John Swett High in Crockett, Heather Hayden. She attended Heald College and earned an associated degree in medical administration. As for work, she has been a baby sitter, a teacher’s aide and she worked as a cashier in her father’s store.

    In letters to the court, family described her as “simple,” “obedient” and “childlike” whose favorite character is Hello Kitty. Her cousin, Rana Omar, told the court Salman is as "American as apple pie."

    Salman had an arranged marriage at age 19 to a man from her father’s home town. He was physically abusive toward her, the court papers allege.

    In 2009, she divorced him and moved in with her mother, working at K-Mart. In 2011, she met Mateen on an online dating site. They married and moved from California to Fort Pierce, Florida, in a condominium owned by Mateen’s mother.

    Six months into the marriage, and while she was pregnant, Mateen became violent and abusive, the defense alleges. He threatened to kill her if she left and he would take their son. He was abusing steroids.

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    At several points during their marriage, Noor witnessed Mateen being questioned by the FBI. She later learned the interview was about statements of support concerning terrorist organizations, which Mateen allegedly made while working as a courthouse security guard, according to defense documents. And she had watched him watching violent videos from the Middle East online. When she asked him about this, he threatened her to stay out of his business, the defense said.

    In the weeks before the attack, Mateen's behavior suddenly changed, according to the bail motion. For the first time, he agreed to take a family trip to California so she could visit her mother. He allowed her to get a driver’s license and bought her an engagement ring and earrings. He gave her spending money. He vowed things would be different.

    Salman's defense team said that on June 11, Mateen came home from work as a security guard and told her he purchased tickets for the trip and wanted to take their son for a treat. He told her that he was going out for the night but she could use the car; he had rented one. She asked him to stay. He insisted he had to see a friend. After he left, Noor took her son to Applebee’s and she bought him a Father’s Day card.

    The next day, Mateen entered the Pulse Night Club with a semi-automatic weapon, killing 49 people and injured dozens more.

    He reportedly said he was a member of Hezbollah and was inspired by an American suicide bomber with al-Nusra and he was attacking the gay club in the name of ISIS.

    While he was storming the club, Salman was home, sleeping with her 3-year-old son, her defense team said, describing a confusing few hours as she tried to learn what was going on.

    Her mother-in-law woke her up. Mateen was supposed to have stopped by their house that night. It was Ramadan. But he never showed up. Did Salman know where he was?

    Salman said she’d call him. She tried, but got no answer.

    She texted him: Where are you?

    He replied: Do you see what’s happening?

    She said: No.

    He replied: I love you babe.

    That was the last communication they had.