Orlando shooter’s widow gave him ‘green light’ to murder 49 people in Pulse gay club, Florida prosecutor says
When Omar Mateen opened fire inside Pulse nightclub – killing 49 people and wounding dozens more in support of Islamic State – he did so with the help of his wife, Noor Salman, prosecutors in Salman’s trial argued on Wednesday.
“This trial is about what the defendant knew,” Assistant US Attorney James Mandolfo told Salman’s jury, during opening statements on the trial’s ninth day. He said prosecutors would prove Salman and Mateen spent “thousands of dollars to prepare for the attack,” and she knowingly hid her husband’s intentions from his family and the police.
“The defendant’s cold actions gave Omar Mateen a green light to commit these crimes on behalf of IS,” he said.
Salman is accused of aiding her husband in the planning of the June 12, 2016, attack at Pulse, a gay nightclub, and also of lying to federal investigators in the hours afterward.
Her lawyer says the woman only has an IQ of 84, and that she had been manipulated and cowed by her husband, who died in the attack.
“We don’t have to prove that she took the same steps as Mateen. We don’t have to prove that she is an extremist,” Mandolfo said, adding that prosecutors would prove that Salman knowingly delayed the investigation into the nightclub shooting.
“That is referred to as obstruction of justice.”
Salman was in a unique position to prevent the killing, Mandolfo said.
“At 2.02am Omar Mateen calmly walked inside the Pulse nightclub … methodically killing 49 people and injuring 53 others,” he said. “No one knew the horrific events that were going to unfold … No one knew. Except two people,” Mateen and Salman, he said.
If convicted, she faces up to life in prison.
After opening statements, the government called a variety of witnesses who gave emotional testimony about that night at Pulse.
Two police officers testified, as did a survivor who said she covered herself with a dead body while Mateen shot his way through the club.
Prosecutors also showed video taken inside the club by one survivor; Salman covered her eyes with her hand and victims’ family members in the court teared up.
They argued that Salman knew Mateen was buying rounds of ammunition for his AR-15, helped him spend thousands of dollars before the attack and knew about his plan when he left the house in the hours before the shooting.
In his hour-long opening statement, Mandolfo gave several examples of Salman’s conflicting statements to FBI agents in the hours after the attack. In one conversation with authorities, before they informed her of any details of the attack, she said, “My husband is safe with guns.”
Said Mandolfo: “No one ever told her about guns.”
He described a wife that knowingly went to at least two locations with Mateen to “scout” sites of potential terrorist attacks. One was City Place, an open-air shopping centre in West Palm Beach. The other was Disney Springs, a crowded dining and shopping area near the famed theme parks, Mandolfo said.
“What would make people more upset, an attack at a club or an attack at Disney?” Mateen asked his wife, according to Mandolfo.
Salman also knew her husband was fascinated with violent jihadist videos, even pulling their 3-year-old away from the screen, Mandolfo said.
The statements she made to the FBI after the attack will be key to the trial.
Salman’s lawyer, Linda Moreno, argued in opening statements that some of the claims are contradicted by cellphone records and other evidence.
“She cooperated with the FBI completely,” said Moreno, adding that her client never asked for a lawyer and consented to a home search. The FBI in their hourslong questioning manipulated and coerced her, Moreno asserts.
“Noor Salman denied any knowledge of Omar Mateen’s plans for hours,” she said, adding that agents told Salman that she could go to jail and not see her child.
Her lawyer said Mateen had a secret life that involved meeting women online and cheating on Salman.
Moreno called Mateen “misogynistic.” According to court records, Mateen abused Salman, including when she was pregnant.
“The only sin was that she married a monster,” said Moreno, adding that the jury can honour the victims of the attack by seeking the truth of her client’s actions.
US District Judge Paul G. Byron said the trial could last three weeks or more, after taking several days to pick a jury of 12 with six alternates.
Salman is the only person charged in the attack. Mateen was killed in a shoot out with police.
Mateen’s conversations with a hostage negotiator, 911 audio from victims inside the nightclub during the attack and photos and videos of the carnage at Pulse are expected to be introduced as evidence in the trial.
During the trial’s first eight days, potential jurors were warned of the graphic materials they would be likely to see if chosen to decide the case.
Salman is not required to testify. She may if she chooses to, but the 12-person jury is not allowed to consider her refusal to testify as evidence of guilt.
Salman has pleaded not guilty and her lawyers and family have denied she had anything to do with Mateen’s plot.
FBI agents said Salman confessed to having prior knowledge and being with Mateen when he staked out Pulse and bought ammunition.
Defence lawyers Charles Swift and Linda Moreno plan to call an expert on false confessions to testify that Salman’s statements were not reliable.
An expert on domestic violence is also expected to testify in support of the defence’s theory that Mateen was so abusive that Salman was afraid to question his actions leading up to the attack, according to court filings.
Prosecutors have said they do not intend to argue Mateen’s attack was targeting the gay community, but was instead a terrorist attack in the name of Islamic State.