Judge Orders Mental Exam For Widow of Orlando Nightclub Shooter

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – Federal prosecutors said Wednesday the widow of the gunman who killed 49 people in an Orlando nightclub last year admitted to the FBI that she knew her husband was going to carry out an attack in the name of the Islamic State.

Justice Department attorney Sara Sweeney said at Noor Salman’s bond hearing that Salman told the FBI her husband Omar Mateen had left the house with an assault rifle and a backpack full of ammunition on the night of the attack on the Pulse Nigh Club, on June 12, 2016.

Salman described him to special agents as being “pumped up” and said he told her that “this is the one day,” according to Sweeney.

The Justice Department charged Salman earlier this month with helping Mateen carry out the attack and lying to police officers and the FBI during the investigation.

At her Jan. 18 arraignment, Salman pleaded not guilty to the felony charges. She was arrested at her family home in Rodeo, a small town in the San Francisco Bay Area, two days earlier and is being held at Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County.

Mateen pledged allegiance to the Islamic State during the massacre, in which he killed 49 people and injured 53 others before being killed by SWAT officers in a three-hour standoff. The incident is the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

Sweeney said Wednesday that Salman admitted she had accompanied Mateen on three occasions to case nightclubs and Downtown Disney outside Orlando, and that Mateen had asked her, “What would make people more upset, an attack on Downtown Disney or a club?”

In the 11 days leading up to the attack, Salman and Mateen also went on a spending spree, spending nearly $30,000 – the equivalent of the couple’s yearly salary – on clothes, jewelry and the AR-15 rifle Mateen used in the shooting.

And, she told FBI agents, she and Mateen went to the bank on June 1 and added Salman to Mateen’s accounts as a payable-on-death beneficiary, so that she could only gain access to his accounts if she had Mateen’s death certificate.

“He walks out with a gun and a backpack full of ammo, there can’t be a doubt in her mind that he’s going to carry out an attack,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney asked the court to keep Salman in custody because she is dangerous and a flight risk.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu expressed reservations about the government’s assessment of the danger Salman poses, noting that the government doesn’t believe Salman might do something dangerous if she is released.

Ryu delayed ruling on whether to release Salman. She instead ordered a psychological evaluation, including of her risk of committing suicide, after a pretrial-services employee testified that Salman had expressed severe depression and had been on suicide watch at Santa Rita.

However, the judge twice stressed that releasing Salman constituted an “if.”

Salman appeared alternately calm and agitated during the hearing, taking notes and passing them to her defense team.

Salman’s attorney Charles Swift said Salman’s actions the day of the shooting – she bought Mateen a card for Father’s Day, which was coming up that weekend – show she didn’t know about the attack.

Swift attributed his client’s admissions to the FBI to Mateen abusing her and to her learning disability. He added that Salman isn’t dangerous because unlike her husband, she doesn’t harbor extremist Muslim religious beliefs.

“The only danger posed is theoretical at best,” he said. “The government can’t articulate it other than it is a very serious crime, because the defendant in this case does not pose any actual harm.”

Although Salman grew up in the Bay Area, she went to live with Mateen in Fort Pierce, Florida, after they married following an online courtship.

The case will likely be transferred to the Middle District of Florida, where Orlando is located and where a grand jury indicted her.

Salman faces life in prison if convicted.

Swift is with the Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America in Richardson, Texas.