Widow of Florida nightclub mass shooter goes on trial

Noor Salman says she was an abused wife who knew nothing of Omar Mateen's plans

Bob Kunst protests against the widow of the Pulse nightclub shooter Noor Salman, who faces charges of aiding her husband in killing 49 people in 2016, outside the federal court house in Orlando, Florida, U.S. March 1, 2018.  REUTERS/Joey Roulette

Two years after Omar Mateen shot and killed 49 people in a Florida nightclub the trial of his widow Noor Salman is due to begin on Wednesday, on charges of helping him plan the deadly spree.

The trial could last more than three weeks and risks reopening deep feelings of grief among a community shocked by what at the time was the worst mass shooting in modern American history.

Mateen was shot dead in the aftermath of the killings in the Pulse nightclub.

Salman, who faces spending the rest of her life in prison if convicted, insists she knew nothing of her husband's plans but prosecutors allege she accompanied him as he scouted the target and later misled FBI agents about how much she knew.

In pleading not guilty, her defence team instead says she was an abused wife too frightened to defy his orders.

In her first interview months after the 2016 attack, she told The New York Times: "I was unaware of everything. I don’t condone what he has done. I am very sorry for what has happened. He has hurt a lot of people."

In her only public comments, she also said her husband started abusing her six months into the marriage and had continued beating her even when pregnant.


The deadliest shooting rampages in the US since 2012

FBI arrests widow of Orlando nightclub shooter


The 31-year-old was arrested in January 2017 while staying with relatives in the San Francisco area and has been in detention ever since.

The case raises particular difficulties for both prosecutors and the defence. Not only must prosecuting lawyers handle the fraught issue of an abused wife but it is likely to reawaken the worst memories of the attack, particularly among the gay community which frequented the club.

Rick Scott, the governor of Florida, said: “While the horrific terror attack at Pulse left a solemn impact on our state, Floridians have shown incredible resiliency, bravery and love in the face of this extreme loss.”

Such was the impact of an attack which also injured 58 people that selecting a jury took eight days as potential jurors with personal connections to the dead or the wounded, or who could not set aside their feelings about the tragedy, were weeded out.

FBI investigators say her husband declared allegiance to ISIL during the shooting. To prove its case, prosecutors must prove Salman knowingly took part in Mateen's plan to "provide material support" to a foreign terrorist organisation.

The prosecution case hinges in part on statements made by Noor herself.

In previous court hearings, FBI agents have described how Salman said her husband had been looking at jihadist websites and videos on a daily basis during the two years before the attack.

Ricardo Enriquez, a special agent and polygraph examiner, said Salman had driven around the Pulse nightclub for 20 minutes just a week before the shooting.

On one occasion, he added, Mateen even told her it was the target.

And the FBI quoted her as writing in a statement: "I am sorry for what happened. I wish I’d go back and tell his family and the police what he was going to do."

However, her defence says she was questioned without a lawyer present and was not told her rights until later, when she was given a lie detector test at an FBI office.

Prosecutors are also hoping to seize a string of purchases made before the attack. Although Mateen, the family’s sole breadwinner, had a salary of about $30,5000, the couple made a number of major cash withdrawals – amounting to about $5,500 – and charged a further $25,000 to credit cards. A diamond ring valued at $8,000 was among jewellery purchases and they spent about $1,200 on electronics, according to prosecution documents.