Crime

Feds: Orlando killer’s widow admitted to knowing terrorist attack was planned

Federal prosecutors described the wife of the Orlando nightclub killer as “calculating and callous,” who knew her husband planned a terror attack on the nightclub last summer and did nothing to stop it.

The Rodeo, California, woman went on three casing trips and told FBI investigators that she saw her husband watching violent jihadist videos in front of their young son, and even heard him say, “This is the day,” before he left. But she did nothing, prosecutors said, as they argued Wednesday at a detention hearing to keep Noor Zahi Salman, 30, behind bars.

“He walks out with a gun and a backpack full of ammo; there can’t be a doubt in her mind that he’s going to carry out an attack,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Sweeney said.

Omar Mateen, 29, who declared his allegiance to the Islamic State, was killed by SWAT officers after he killed 49 people and wounded more than 50 others at the Pulse nightclub on June 12, 2016. It was the deadliest attack involving a single gunman and the deadliest targeting the LGTB community in the U.S.

Salman is facing life in prison on charges that she aided her husband in a terrorist attack and obstruction of justice.

Defense attorneys said Wednesday that Salman is getting scapegoated by the government for horrific crimes committed by her husband alone. They described her as a former special-education student with learning disabilities who was physically and mentally abused by Mateen and lived an isolated life focused on their young son.

“What we heard today was the case against Omar Mateen. This was not a case against Noor Salman,” defense attorney Linda Moreno said. “The government laid out a theoretical, extremely thin prosecution case against Noor that was based on speculation, based on statements they claim she made during an 18-hour interrogation that was conducted without counsel.

“We frankly expected more,” Moreno said of the prosecution’s evidence. “We now know there is no more to this case.”

Salman has been on suicide watch at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, California, since she was arrested at her family’s Rodeo home Jan. 16, about seven months after the massacre. Dressed in a red jail jumpsuit and wearing her hair in braids, she spent the hearing taking notes and passing them to her attorney with a trembling hand. At times, she silently cried and wiped tears. She periodically looked to her family members, many of whom were crying themselves as they filled an entire row in the courtroom gallery. Salman was petitioning a court to change the name of her 4-year-old son, named after Mateen, before her arrest and had cited fears for his safety.

U.S. District Judge Donna Ryu on Wednesday ordered a psychological evaluation before she decides whether Salman should be released on bond, and under what conditions.

While defense attorneys argued that she poses no danger to the community, Sweeney described her as a “calculating and callous person.”

The prosecutor doubted that Salman was battered by Mateen, noting that none of her family members reported that to the FBI.

Defense attorney Charles Swift said “the strength of the government’s case is very much questionable.”

Salman is expected to be extradited to Florida for her trial. Her next court date in Oakland has not been scheduled.

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