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United States

Orlando gunman first planned to attack Disney World instead of Pulse gay club, say prosecutors in wife’s trial

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 March, 2018, 12:55am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 March, 2018, 1:39am

A federal prosecutor said on Wednesday that the Orlando nightclub gunman intended to attack Disney World’s shopping and entertainment complex by hiding a gun in a stroller but became spooked by police and chose the gay club as his target instead.

Prosecutors revealed the new information during closing arguments in the trial of the gunman’s widow, Noor Salman. She is charged with obstruction of justice and providing material support to a terrorist organisation.

Prosecutors said she misled investigators when they spoke to her in the hours after the attack. They said she knew that Omar Mateen had guns and that both had visited Disney World in the days before the attack. Prosecutors added she lied about his internet use, his radicalisation and the number of guns he had.

“You’re going to have to find that Ms Salman knowingly engaged in misleading conduct,” prosecutor Sara Sweeney said as the prosecution and defence began their final pitches to jurors.

Salman, 31, could face life in prison if convicted on charges of obstruction of justice and aiding Mateen in providing support to Islamic State.

“She does not have to be his equal in the attack” to show she helped her husband carry it out, Sweeney said in US District Court in Orlando, Florida.

Sweeney also said the Disney Springs entertainment and shopping complex had been Mateen’s original target when he left home on the night of the June 12, 2016, massacre before ending up at Pulse.

Orlando shooter’s widow gave him ‘green light’ to murder 49 people

Trial witnesses had hinted at the switch in targets, but Sweeney’s assertion on Wednesday was the first time prosecutors had acknowledged it.

Prosecutors contend that Salman helped Mateen case possible attack sites and did nothing to stop the massacre at the gay nightspot. Mateen had claimed allegiance to a leader of Islamic State, and police killed him in an exchange of gunfire.

Prosecutors have argued that Salman first told investigators her husband acted without her knowledge but later said she knew he was watching Islamic State recruitment videos, had bought an assault-style rifle and had examined three possible sites for attack.

The only evidence from Salman’s initial interviews are handwritten statements because Federal Bureau of Investigation agents did not use video or audio recordings of the interrogation.

Defence lawyers contend that Salman was a simple woman who loved children and that FBI investigators coerced her into confessing. Salman was at home with the couple’s then-3-year-old son during the attack and was unaware of Mateen’s plans, they have said.

The trial judge, Paul Byron, on Monday rejected a defence motion to dismiss the charges or declare a mistrial because the prosecution had failed to disclose that Mateen’s father had been an FBI informant before the nightclub attack.