Orlando gunman’s wife questioned by US investigators

Noor Salman knew of Omar Mateen’s plans to attack gay nightclub in Florida

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has signed a book of condolences at the Mansion House in Dublin as a sign of respect for the victims who were killed in the mass shooting in Orlando over the weekend. Video: Bryan O'Brien

 

US investigators have questioned the wife of the gunman who killed 49 people at an Orlando gay nightclub on Sunday, the FBI said on Wednesday, and a law enforcement source said she could face criminal charges if there is evidence of any wrongdoing.

Omar Mateen’s wife, Noor Salman, knew of his plans for what became the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history, said the law enforcement source, who has been briefed on the matter.

“With respect to the wife, I can tell you that is only one of many interviews that we have done and will continue to do in this investigation,” FBI special agent Ron Hopper told a news conference.

“I cannot comment on the outcome or the outcome of that investigation.”

The FBI wanted to hear from anyone who had contact or information about the gunman, Mr Hopper said.

US senator Angus King, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which received a briefing on the investigation into the massacre, told CNN it appeared Salman had “some knowledge“ of what was going on.

“She definitely is, I guess you would say, a person of interest right now and appears to be cooperating and can provide us with some important information,” Mr King said.

US attorney Lee Bentley declined to say whether Salman or any other associates of Mateen’s could face criminal charges.

“I am not going to speculate today as to any charges that may be brought or indeed whether any charges will be brought in this case,” Mr Bentley told the news conference. “It is premature to do so.”

Salman was with Mateen when he cased possible targets in the past two months, including the Walt Disney World Resort in April, a shopping complex called Disney Springs and the Pulse nightclub in early June, CNN and NBC reported.

Salman could not be reached for comment.

The gunman’s father, Seddique Mateen, declined to comment specifically on the investigation on Wednesday, saying, “The FBI, they always do a professional job and to the maximum extent of my ability I will support them.“

The younger Mateen, a New York-born US citizen of Afghan heritage, was shot dead by police after a three-hour rampage through the Pulse nightclub. The attack was the deadliest on US soil since the hijacked plane attacks on New York and Washington on September 11th, 2001.

Federal investigators have said Mateen, who was 29 and worked as a security guard, was likely self-radicalised and there was no evidence he received any help or instructions from outside groups such as Islamic State.

Gun control

In Washington, Sunday’s shooting in Florida stirred fresh debate on gun purchases in the US, after it emerged that Mateen was legally able to buy an assault rifle even though the FBI had investigated him in the past for possible ties to Islamist militant groups.

The shooting raised questions about how the US should respond to the threat of violence from militant Islamists at home and abroad.

The FBI questioned Mateen in 2013 and 2014 for suspected ties to Islamist militants but concluded he did not pose a treat.

Sunday’s attack followed a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, in December in which a married couple inspired by Islamic State killed 14 people.

US senator Pat Toomey, a Republican who joined forces with Democrats in an unsuccessful push for gun control legislation after the killing of elementary school children in Connecticut in 2012, is now working on a bill to keep guns out of the hands of people on terrorism watch lists, a gun control group said on Wednesday.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said he would meet with the powerful National Rifle Association lobbying group, which has endorsed him, to discuss a similar idea for restricting gun purchases.

The announcement marked a break with Republican Party orthodoxy, which typically opposes any restrictions on gun ownership.

The NRA responded on Wednesday that it believed that people listed on terrorism watch lists should face additional reviews before purchasing firearms.

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has supported gun control efforts and said on Monday she was “bewildered“ that congressional Republicans had blocked a Democratic effort to restrict gun sales to people on the watch lists.

Pending attack

FoxNews.com, citing an FBI source, said prosecutors were seeking to charge Mateen’s wife as an accessory to 49 counts of murder and 53 counts of attempted murder and failure to notify law enforcement about the pending attack and lying to federal agents.

NBC News said Ms Salman told federal agents she tried to talk her husband out of carrying out the attack.

But she also told the FBI she once drove him to the Pulse nightclub because he wanted to scope it out, the network said.

A former wife of Mateen, who was a security guard, has said he was mentally unstable and beat her.

The ex-spouse, Sitora Yusufiy, said she fled their home after four months of marriage.

Ms Salman’s mother, Ekbal Zahi Salman, lives in a middle-class neighbourhood of the suburban town of Rodeo, California.

A neighbour said Noor Salman only visited her mother once after she married Mateen.

Noor Salman’s mother “didn’t like him very much. He didn’t allow her [Noor] to come here,” said neighbour Rajinder Chahal.

He said he had spoken to Noor Salman’s mother after the Orlando attack.

“She was crying, weeping.”

Islamic State

Mateen made 911 calls from the club in which he pledged loyalty to the leader of Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, whose organisation controls parts of Iraq and Syria.

He also claimed solidarity with the ethnic Chechen brothers who carried out the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and with a Palestinian-American who became a suicide bomber in Syria for al-Qaeda offshoot the Nusra Front, authorities said.

“We could hear him talking to 911 saying that the reason why he’s doing this is because he wants America to stop bombing his country. From that conversation from 911 he pledges allegiance to Isis,” said Patience Carter (20), who was trapped in a bathroom stall at the nightclub as Mateen prowled outside.

One official said investigators believe Mateen browsed militant Islamist material on the internet for two years or more before the shootings.

Soon after the attack, Mateen’s father indicated that his son had harboured strong anti-gay feelings.

He recounted an incident when his son became angry when he saw two men kissing in Miami while out with his wife and son.

US officials were investigating media reports that Mateen may have been gay but not openly so, and questioning whether that could have driven his attack, according to two people who have been briefed regularly on the investigation.

The owner of Pulse, speaking through a representative, denied reports that Mateen had been a regular patron.

“Untrue and totally ridiculous,” Sara Brady, a spokeswoman for club owner Barbara Poma, said in an e-mail when asked about the claim.

Reuters