Noor Salman, the widow of Pulse nightclub mass-murderer Omar Mateen, appeared briefly in federal court in Oakland Tuesday morning facing charges that could potentially send her to prison for life. As the Chronicle reports, she was indicted by a grand jury in Orlando on Thursday and charged with providing material support to a terrorist organization and obstruction of justice with the indictment just unsealed today. She arrived in a yellow t-shirt and gray sweatpants, and ABC 7 provides the sad courtroom sketch of her shown above.
The New York Times reports that she "shook visibly" while facing judge Judge Donna M. Ryu, and her voice was "scarcely audible" when she made her only vocal response, acknowledging that she understood the charges against her.
The language of the charging document says that Salman did "knowingly aid and abet Omar Mateen’s attempted provision and provision of ‘material support or resources’" to ISIS.
TV journalists from around the state swarmed Salman's uncle, Al Salman, who gave statements to the press outside the courtroom denying that his niece bore any responsibility for the tragedy, the worst mass shooting in US history, which claimed the lives of 49 people last June.
"She didn't know what was going on," the uncle said. "The only thing in her life is she wants to raise up her son. If she knew about what that crazy guy was going to do, she wouldn't be here. She would take her son and run away from him." He added, "She’s a very soft, sweet girl. I know she’s innocent. I raised her."
Uncle of wife of Orlando nightclub killer defending her in front of courthouse this morning- says she is sweet girl. pic.twitter.com/wSdCmhqizV— Amy Hollyfield (@amyhollyfield) January 17, 2017
When asked about her contact with her husband the night of the shooting, Al Salman said he called his cellphone to find out where he was (previous reports had it that they only texted). "He said, ‘Don’t you see the news?’ She told him ‘no.’ He said, ‘I love you babe.’ That’s all she knows," said Salman.
NBC News reports that Salman was reached the night of the attack by her mother-in-law, asking about the whereabouts of Mateen, to which she apparently replied "He's not here, let me call him."
The content of that last exchange between the couple notwithstanding, federal prosecutors say that Noor Salman "knowingly misled" FBI agents in the days following the shooting and during the twelve hours during which she was initially questioned about her husband's planning of the event, and what she may have known about it.
In the seven months since the attack, federal investigators have clearly compiled enough evidence to prosecute Salman despite her denials, though further details of what they know about her actions are still to be revealed. Salman's arraignment, and a discussion of the terms of her detention, are expected to happen Wednesday.
It's been widely reported via FBI statements that Salman admitted to driving Mateen to the nightclub at least once prior to the attack, and driving him to a Walmart where he purchased ammunition something she told the New York Times in November was just a routine errand, because he was a security guard and frequented a shooting range. At the time she claimed she was "unaware of everything" her husband had planned, however she admitted to knowing that he watched jihadist videos online.
Prosecutors now say Salman was involved in her husband's plot as early as April, perhaps pointing to a trip they took with their son to Disney World that month. The couple returned there in June, and it's been suggested that Mateen had first considered the amusement park as a target, before settling on the nightclub.
An argument is expected to be put forth by her attorneys that she was the victim of domestic violence, and was therefore too scared of her husband to inquire about his plans, or too much in the dark because he kept her there.
One of Salman's previous lawyers, Linda Moreno of Tampa, has already cited domestic abuse as an issue, saying it is "misguided and wrong to prosecute her," per the NYT. A provisional public defender spoke in court on Salman's behalf today, saying that Charles Swift, the director of the Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America, was en route to Oakland to represent her.
Salman has, according to the Chronicle, been living with her ailing mother in Rodeo, east of San Francisco, since sometime last year, and her son is being cared for by relatives. Salman and Mateen were married in the Bay Area, where Salman grew up, in 2011, and later moved to Fort Pierce, Florida, where they had their son. In December, SFist learned that Salman had filed a petition in court in Contra Costa County to have her son's name legally changed he currently has his father's surname, and Omar for a middle name.
She was arrested Monday and taken into custody as Santa Rita jail in Dublin, pending the unsealing of the indictment against her.