Noor Salman, the wife of the man who carried out the deadliest mass shooting in US history, has broken her silence for the first time since the June 12 massacre that left 49 people dead and dozens wounded.
Salman, 30, told The New York Times in the presence of her lawyer that she was “unaware” of Omar Mateen’s plans to attack the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
“I was unaware of everything,” she said. “I don’t condone what he has done. I am very sorry for what has happened. He has hurt a lot of people.”
The interview Salman gave to the Times differs from the story she told the FBI as they questioned her in the hours after the attack. Prosecutors are still deciding whether or not to charge her in relation to her husband’s crime, given her initial story that she was with her husband when he went to buy ammunition and a holster the night before.
Salman, a Palestinian-American who grew up in Rodeo, California, told the Times that Mateen was physically and emotionally abusive, often hitting her and calling her the Afghan word for “slut.” According to a nurse tasked with evaluating her after the attack who spoke to the Times, “she was totally oblivious to clues that he is getting radicalized or planning anything,”
Mateen, a US citizen born in New York to Afghan immigrants, was living in Fort Pierce with Salman when he rented a car and drove to Orlando to carry out the attack. He was armed with an assault-style rifle and a handgun that he had legally bought days before.
He was a security guard and had a Florida firearms licence that allowed him to carry concealed weapons, which is why Salman told the Times she didn’t find it suspicious when he bought ammunition with her one day at a Walmart.
“It’s possible she didn’t know because he was not confiding in her, but she does have every incentive in the world to retell this story as a different kind of victim,” Mia Bloom, a professor at Georgia State University who has studied the role of women and children in terrorist groups, told the newspaper.
Mateen was the subject of FBI investigations in 2013 and 2014 — the first after he made inflammatory and contradictory statements about terrorism that raised concern with his coworkers, and the second after a source close to the FBI indicated that he may have had ties to the American suicide bomber who prayed at his mosque in Fort Pierce.
Performers and regulars at Pulse told media outlets in the days after the attack that Mateen was familiar with the club, as he had been going there at least once or twice a month for the last three years. He also used several gay dating apps.
Salman, for her part, said she now just wants “people to know that I am human.”
“I am a mother,” she said, adding that she had no idea what her husband was planning.
Mateen gave her $500 the day before the attack, she said, for her and their 3-year-old son to go to Disney World, and then didn’t come home for dinner.
Law enforcement sources said in the days after the attack that Mateen had gone further than that, adding Salman to his life-insurance policy and giving her access to his bank accounts. Those reports have not been confirmed.
Mateen, for his part, frequented Disney often. He visited the theme park several times between June 1 and June 6, coinciding with the park’s weeklong Gay Days 2016 celebrations, and satellite data from his mobile phone showed that he visited Disney Springs, a shopping mall connected to Disney World, on Saturday night — hours before attacking Pulse.
Salman, who deleted all of her social-media accounts shortly after the shooting occurred and has avoided the press since, corroborated some preliminary reports in her recent interview with the Times.
She confirmed that she and Mateen had met online, for example, on a dating site called Arab Lounge. She also said that t
he final text she received from Mateen — just before he was killed in a shootout with Orlando police inside the nightclub — was a question: “Have you seen the news?”
Salman told the Times that she replied that she had not. Mateen then told her he loved her, she said, and that was the last she heard from him.
The shooting at the gay nightclub was the deadliest shooting in US history, with more fatalities than the mass shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007 and the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012.
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