Noor Salman trial: What to expect in federal case against Pulse gunman's wife

Some evidence, witnesses to be determined before March 1 trial

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

ORLANDO, Fla. - The federal trial for the Pulse gunman’s wife will begin March 1 in Orlando’s federal courthouse. Leading up to the prosecution of Noor Salman, U.S. attorneys have released evidence showing what they say Salman knew about her husband’s plans to attack the gay nightclub.

Salman faces charges of aiding and abetting the provision of material to support a foreign terrorist organization and obstruction of justice. She was arrested seven months after police say her husband killed 49 people and injured more than 50 others before police shot and killed him June 12, 2016.

The trial is scheduled to begin March 1 at the U.S. District Court in Orlando. Looking at the month ahead, here’s what to know before the week-long trial.

Who is Noor Salman?

Salman is a 31-year-old woman who grew up in Southern California with her three sisters and her parents who emigrated to the U.S from the West Bank.

Most of what is commonly known about Salman’s personal life and her marriage to Mateen is from a November 2016 New York Times interview, her first and only interview before or after her arrest, during which time she said she knew nothing of her husband’s plans.

Salman first met Mateen in 2011 on an online dating site and the two were married not long after. It was Mateen’s second marriage and Salman’s first. Sitora Yusufiy, Mateen’s ex-wife, told CNN that he was controlling and abusive throughout their relationship. After a few years of marriage, she left in 2009 with the help of family. Yusufiy, an Uzbekistan immigrant, now lives in Colorado.

Salman had one child with Mateen, a boy, who was 3 years old when his father carried out the mass shooting. Their son shared Mateen’s name until Salman legally changed it months after the attack.

The 31-year-old's defense team says Salman was placed in special classes in high school with a learning disability and "she struggles with abstract thinking," court records show. She has a medical administration degree.

Salman told the Times that she moved around after the June 12 massacre to avoid the media. She was arrested in the California Bay Area, where she had been staying with family.

Salman has been in an undisclosed jail facility since being extradited from California to Florida.

Gunman's 911 calls to police

The federal judge overseeing Salman's trial must decide if Mateen's 911 calls made during the mass shooting can be played in court.

To prove Salman's charge of aiding and abetting federal prosecutors must show that Mateen's crime happened, which would involving showing them evidence from the Pulse shooting.

The defense has argued against playing the 911 calls between Mateen and negotiators, during which he confesses to the shooting and claims he did it in the name of the Islamic State.

Byron will decide ahead of the trial whether the calls can be introduced.

Will the shooter's friend ‘Nemo’ testify?

Salman told authorities that Mateen said he was going to his friend's house only identified as "Nemo" the night before the shooting.

On Jan. 10, Salman's attorneys learned that Nemo was planning to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination for unknown reasons if called to testify at trial.

Salman's lawyers say Nemo's testimony is evidence that Mateen lied to his wife about his plans. 

Prosecutors say Salman fabricated a cover story for her husband, because she couldn't have known that when he said he was at his friend Nemo's in the past he was using that as a cover story to meet other women.

The defense asked the judge for more time to interview Nemo. Ahead of the trial, Federal Judge Paul Byron will have to decide if Nemo can use the Fifth Amendment.

What US federal attorney’s must prove

Most of the trial will focus on proving the harsher charge of aiding and abetting.

It’s not enough that Salman was Mateen’s wife and in the same home while he planned the attack. Prosecutors must prove that she acted in a way that would help her husband commit the crime --in this case, by not telling authorities about his plans, accompanying him on his target location scouting trips and to buy ammunition.

The most damning statements made about Salman’s knowledge of her husband’s plans are her own to the FBI.

After first telling FBI agents on June 12, 2016, that she didn’t know what Mateen was going to do the night he left their Fort Pierce condominium, she later tells them in a written statement, “I knew when he left the house he was going to Orlando to attack the Pulse nightclub” and apologizes for lying.

Salman's attorneys tried to convince a judge that the statements she made to investigators on June 12, 2016, were obtained unlawfully. Federal prosecutors said authorities were not required to read Salman her Miranda rights because she was not officially in custody or detained, meaning she was free to go if she wanted.

Salman told FBI agents she went with Mateen to Walmart so he could purchase ammunition later used in the Pulse shooting, an example of what prosecutors allege is the procurement of supplies to carry out the attack in the name of the Islamic State.

One question prosecutors may try to address is, does Salman’s fear as a victim of domestic violence give her a pass to alert authorities to Mateen’s behavior and plans to harm others? 

What the defense will try to disprove

Salman’s defense team will need to prove that when she accompanied her husband on multiple alleged target scouting trips she had no knowledge about what those trips to Disney World and driving by the Pulse nightclub were intended for.

Salman’s lawyer Charles Swift said during a recent evidence hearing that the trip to Pulse didn't match up with GPS records and may have never happened.

They will also claim she was a domestic violence victim in fear of her life if she spoke out about her husband’s behavior. Swift said Salman has post-traumatic stress disorder because of years of physical and mental abuse.

After making statements about al-Qaeda and Hezbollah to his coworkers, Mateen was investigated in 2013 and 2014 by the FBI and cleared both times. Salman told the New York Times that she knew her husband watched jihadist videos, but assumed it was OK because the FBI cleared him.

Salman's attorneys were unsuccessful when they tried to convince the federal judge that FBI agents obtained statements from her on June 12, 2016, unlawfully and get them tossed out.

False confession expert, Bruce Frumkin, is on the witness list for the defense. It’s likely he will testify that the statements she made to FBI agents on June 12 were not true or coerced.

Possible outcomes

Salman faces life in prison if found guilty of aiding and abetting a foreign terrorist organization.

Only a handful of women in the U.S. and Europe have ever been convicted of aiding terrorist organizations.

Most recently, two Minnesota women were convicted in 2011 of conspiring to funnel money to a terrorist group in Somalia linked to al-Qaeda. Both women denied knowledge that the money would be used for a terrorist organization, but federal prosecutors used wiretap conversations with them to nail down a conviction. They were sentenced in 2013 to 10 and 20 years in prison, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

How to follow the trial

Because the proceedings are in federal court, no cameras or recording devices are permitted. News 6 and ClickOrlando.com will have reporters at the trial every day, bringing viewers updates every few hours.

Follow updates at clickorlando.com/NoorSalmanTrial

Copyright 2018 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.