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Thursday, December 7, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Thursday, December 7, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Wife of Orlando Nightclub Shooter Likely to Be Released

The widow of the gunman who killed 49 people in an Orlando nightclub last year in the name of the Islamic State will likely be released from jail on a $500,000 bond.

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – The widow of the gunman who killed 49 people in an Orlando nightclub last year in the name of the Islamic State will likely be released from jail on a $500,000 bond.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu ordered Noor Salman's release at a two-hour hearing Wednesday, but immediately stayed it for 48 hours while federal prosecutors ask a Florida court – where Salman will be tried – to detain her.

The Justice Department charged Salman in January with helping her husband Omar Mateen carry out an attack on the Pulse Night Club on June 12, 2016, and obstructing the investigation that followed.

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.

Prosecutors asked Ryu at a bail hearing in February to keep Salman in custody because she is dangerous and a flight risk.

But Ryu said Wednesday that the government hadn't identified any concrete danger that Salman poses, noting that it had only pointed to the Orlando attack as evidence of Salman's dangerousness – which she said was insufficient.

"I find that Ms. Salman has rebutted the presumptions of flight and danger," Ryu said to smiles and tears of Salman's family members assembled in the courtroom. "She can and should be released pursuant to strict conditions that mitigate those risks."

The conditions of Salman's release include GPS monitoring in what Ryu called "essentially home lockdown" at the house of her aunt and uncle in Rodeo, a small town in the San Francisco Bay Area. Salman will only be allowed to leave the house to go to court, meet with her attorneys in either the Bay Area or Florida, and travel to medical appointments for her and her four-year-old son.

Salman's uncle, Abdallah Salman, agreed at the hearing to act as Salman's custodian once she is released. As custodian, he will supervise his niece and must report any violations of the conditions of her release.

If he fails to report a violation, he could be prosecuted for contempt, Ryu said.

In handing down her order, Ryu slammed the government's evidence and the way it was obtained.

"The government asserts that the weight of the evidence is very strong. I find at this time that the weight of the evidence is debatable," she said.

"It did not offer video or a transcript or other support for the information that was provided to the court, and therefore the court is not in a position to evaluate the strength of the evidence, especially the admissions made by Ms. Salman," she continued. "The bulk of the government's case rests on the alleged admissions. The government did not contradict that all of Ms. Salman's admissions were made toward the end of an interrogation that took place the night of the attack after a 16-hour detention, during which time Ms. Salman did not have counsel.

"The alleged admissions may be vulnerable and may not be construed as admissions," she added.

Ryu also questioned the government's evidence that Salman had knowledge of the attack. She said though the government had pointed to the couple's massive spending spree prior to the attack as proof that she knew, Salman's defense team had countered that the family's finances were controlled by Mateen and reflected the behavior of a man who was preparing to die.

In February, federal prosecutors said Salman had admitted to the FBI that she knew her husband was going to carry out an attack in the name of the Islamic State.

They also said Salman knew Mateen had been watching jihadist videos in front of their son in the two years before the attack.

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.

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

She faces life in prison if convicted.

Charles Swift of the Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America in Richardson, Texas, represents Salman. Justice Department attorney Sara Sweeney heads the government’s legal team in the case.

Categories / Criminal

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