OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The widow of the Orlando nightclub gunman knew about the attack ahead of time, prosecutors said Tuesday as she appeared in court to face charges of aiding and abetting her husband in the months before the rampage last June that left 49 people dead.
Noor Salman, 30, stood before a federal judge under tight security, looking downcast and bewildered. She did not enter a plea. When she was led back to jail, she locked eyes with her tearful uncle.
“She knew he was going to conduct the attack,” federal prosecutor Roger Handberg told the judge. Handberg did not disclose any more details and would not comment after the 15-minute hearing, held in a courtroom packed with security officers.
Outside court, Salman’s uncle Al Salman said his niece was innocent and did nothing to help her husband, Omar Mateen, plan the June 12 attack on the Pulse, a gay nightclub in Florida.
“She’s a very soft and sweet girl,” Salman said. “She would not hurt a fly.”
In an indictment unsealed Monday, she was accused of aiding and abetting Mateen in providing material support and resources to the Islamic State group between April and June of last year. She was also charged with obstruction, accused of misleading and lying to police and the FBI during their investigation. The charges carry up to life in prison.
The indictment gave no additional details on Salman’s actions.
During the standoff, Mateen pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in a 911 call. He was killed in a shootout with SWAT officers. In addition to the 49 victims killed, 53 people were injured.
The couple lived in Fort Pierce, Florida, at the time of the rampage.
After repeated interrogation by the FBI, Salman was arrested Monday at a house she shared with her mother in Rodeo, a San Francisco suburb.
Al Salman said that Noor Salman was physically and mentally abused by Mateen and that she stayed with him for fear of losing custody of their son.
A judge scheduled another hearing Wednesday to discuss her possible release ahead of trial, her transfer to Florida to face the charges, and the appointment of a lawyer.
Charles Swift, director of the Richardson, Texas-based Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America, planned to represent her at that hearing, said public defender John Paul Reichmuth, who served as her attorney during Tuesday’s proceedings.
Linda Moreno, a Florida attorney who also represents Salman, said after Salman’s arrest that the widow “had no foreknowledge nor could she predict what Omar Mateen intended to do that tragic night.”
Salman told The New York Times in an interview published in November that she knew her husband had watched jihadist videos but that she was “unaware of everything” regarding his intent to shoot up the club. Salman also said he had physically abused her.