Pulse Shooter’s Widow to Remain in Custody

ORLANDO, Fla. (CN) – The widow of the gunman who killed 49 people in an Orlando nightclub last June will remain behind bars while she awaits trial in Florida, according to a court order.

Although a California magistrate judge earlier this month authorized Noor Salman’s release from an Alameda County jail on a $500,000 bond, a federal judge in Florida revoked the release on Friday and ordered Salman to remain in custody until she is tried in an Orlando courtroom.

U.S. District Judge Paul Byron of the Middle District of Florida said in a 29-page order that Salman is too dangerous to be released and could flee to her mother’s empty apartment in Palestine if she is freed.

“Defendant Salman is charged with aiding and abetting a horrific terror attack,” Byron wrote. “The existence of the defendant’s past involvement in a terrorist attack, even recognizing she did not pull the trigger, poses too great of a danger to the community to warrant pretrial release.”

The Justice Department charged Salman in January with helping her husband Omar Mateen carry out a terror attack on the Pulse nightclub in the early hours of June 12, 2016, then later lying to the FBI in the ensuing investigation.

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

Although Salman went to live with Mateen in Fort Pierce, Florida after they married, she grew up in Rodeo, a small town in the San Francisco Bay Area, and was arrested at her family home there in January.

The following month, federal prosecutors asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu of the Northern District of California to keep Salman in custody because she was considered dangerous and a flight risk.

They said Salman told the FBI that she knew her husband was going to carry out an attack in the name of the Islamic State, and that she had seen him leave the house the night of the attack with an assault rifle and ammunition.

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

The couple also went on a spending spree before the attack, blowing through nearly the equivalent of their yearly salary on clothes, jewelry and the AR-15 rifle Mateen used in the shooting.

“The defendant’s actions in this case show her to be a calculating and cold person, to a degree that enhances her danger to the community,” the government said in a March 3 motion to revoke Salman’s release.

But in ordering the release, Ryu had questioned the credibility of the government’s evidence. She pointed out that Salman made her admissions to the FBI after a 16-hour interrogation without an attorney.

The judge added that the government hadn’t identified any concrete danger that Salman would now pose if she was released. The Orlando attack was insufficient to prove present danger, and Salman doesn’t harbor extremist Muslim religious beliefs, Ryu said.

Byron slammed those findings in his Friday order, largely based on the same admissions to the FBI that Ryu had rejected.

“While the magistrate judge found defendant Salman does not have any ties to the Islamic State and has not personally exhibited extremist views, the magistrate judge unduly minimizes the defendant’s admitted knowledge of Mateen’s own extremist and violent views, his preparation for the attack, and the defendant’s admission that Mateen departed the family home on June 11, 2016 armed with an assault weapon and ammunition,” he wrote, adding that “the defendant’s admissions to the FBl constitute substantial and credible evidence that defendant Salman aided and abetted Mateen.”

Salman currently maintains that she didn’t know Mateen was planning the nightclub attack. Her actions on June 11 – she bought Mateen a card for Father’s Day and told her family that the couple was planning a trip to California that summer – prove it, she says. And in a response letter to Byron, also filed Friday, she says that she was “a reluctant passenger” during the casing trips who “wanted to go home,” and that Mateen controlled the couple’s finances.

However, Byron noted that Salman had admitted to inventing a cover story for Mateen to use the night of the shooting, suggesting that Salman also bought the card and called her family to paint a picture of innocence.

Salman’s attorney Charles Swift insisted in a statement Saturday that Salman is innocent.

“Until all the facts come out in trial, we urge the community to withhold judgment,” he said.

The conditions of Salman’s release in California included house arrest and GPS monitoring at the home of her aunt and uncle in Rodeo. She was not to leave except to go to court, meet with her attorneys and go to the doctor.

Salman pleaded not guilty to the felony charges at a Jan. 18 arraignment. She faces life in prison if convicted.

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

Justice Department attorney Sara Sweeney in Orlando heads the government’s legal team in the case.

She could not be reached for comment late Friday.

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