Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Noor Salman's trial gave us the best glimpse of what actually led to the Pulse shooting

Posted By on Tue, Apr 3, 2018 at 9:22 AM

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JEREMY REPER
  • Photo by Jeremy Reper
Last week, a federal jury found Noor Salman not guilty of aiding and abetting her husband, Omar Mateen, in his plan to murder 49 people at the gay nightclub Pulse. But despite the verdict, many in Orlando still have questions about what happened that night and Salman's alleged role. The confusion has only been increased by the trial's anonymous jury foreman, who told local media outlets that the jury was convinced Salman "knew" what her husband was planning to do, despite not knowing what day or what location.

But federal prosecutors were not able to undeniably prove that Salman "knew" about the attack at Pulse. Their case against the widow consisted of an alleged confession she gave to FBI agents in the hours after the shooting on June 12, 2016. In her interviews with law enforcement, which started at about 4 a.m. that day and ended after 5 p.m., officers and agents testified they were immediately suspicious of her. When they told her of her husband's death, one agent said she cried while another claimed she didn't. For hours, they interrogated her – though they chose not to record or videotape her statements, despite having the capability in the FBI's Fort Pierce office. Her alleged confession was not written in her own hand – an FBI agent testified during trial that he wrote her words down for her because she was nervous and had her initial each statement.

While parts of her three statements (which you can read here, here and here) turned out to be true, there were also glaring contradictions. Evidence presented at trial proved she and her husband had never been to Pulse before the attack and that he had never shown her the Pulse website. Her web history and statements to her friends proved she wasn't radicalized like him. A defense expert testified that Salman was "more vulnerable" than the average person to giving a false confession to law enforcement.

Despite mountains of evidence mostly focused on Mateen's actions, federal prosecutors did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Salman committed a crime. But her trial did offer the public a glimpse into what federal officials have refused to release for almost two years – the events that led up to Omar Mateen murdering 49 people at Pulse. Here's the evidence that was presented during the trial; we've gathered it in a timeline so it's easier to follow.

2013
FBI Special Agent Juvenal Martin testified that after transferring to the bureau's Miami division in 2006, he oversaw an informant named Seddique Mateen while assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Forces. The elder Mateen had been a source for the agency at various points since 2005 and gave them information about other community members.

In May 2013, the FBI received a complaint from the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office about Omar Mateen, the elder Mateen's son. Omar Mateen was working as a security guard for the private company G4S at the county courthouse. His co-workers reported he claimed he was a member of Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah, and had familial ties with terrorist organizations. Martin had Mateen's supervisor at G4S record him with a hidden device, but they were not able to record him making similar comments.

Martin visited Mateen's apartment at least three times to speak with him about the situation. Seddique Mateen was present in at least one interview, while Noor Salman was present in the apartment all three times. Martin said Omar Mateen eventually admitted he had lied about his direct ties to terrorist organizations because he felt "harassed" by his co-workers for being Muslim. After one interview, an upset Seddique Mateen called Martin and said if his son had made those comments he was "being stupid."

After closing the investigation in 2014 because agents found no connections to terrorism, Martin said he considered developing Omar Mateen as an informant. The FBI opened a second investigation into Mateen in July 2014 after they learned of his casual connection to Moner Mohammad Abusalha, a former member of his mosque who became a suicide bomber in Syria. The FBI's inquiry was closed after they found no significant ties between the two, according to the New York Times.

During the course of the trial, prosecutors also revealed a piece of evidence that the jury didn't hear – Seddique Mateen was being investigated by the FBI. In the days after Pulse, FBI agents found receipts for money transfers to Turkey and Afghanistan between March 16 and June 5 at the elder Mateen's home. In 2012, the agency had received a tip indicating Seddique Mateen was collecting $50,000 to $100,000 in donations to "contribute toward an attack against the government of Pakistan."

2014
From January 2014 to May 25, 2016, Mateen viewed extremist videos and websites depicting beheadings and other terrorist attacks committed by ISIS, as shown by evidence of his web browsing activity.

In the months before the Pulse attack, Mateen appears to have become more obsessed with watching these videos and seemed to be paranoid about being watched – he frequently searched for the FBI and looked up articles about being surveilled.

But federal prosecutors did not present evidence showing Salman looked up similar ISIS-related videos and websites on the devices she used – though FBI agents said she told them after the attack that she knew he was looking at that content. Her defense argues Mateen looked at that material during work and late at night – sometimes even between dating websites and porn, making it hard to believe Salman would be watching with him.

2016
May 21: Omar Mateen, Noor Salman and their 3-year-old son traveled from their home in Fort Pierce to visit Disney Springs in Orlando. While there, they bought a toy for their son and Mateen looked at news stories regarding ISIS suicide bombers on his phone. Prosecutors painted this outing as a scouting venture, while the defense said Mateen’s parents accompanied the couple and their son on this family trip.

May 31: Mateen, Salman and their child visited a Walmart at Vero Beach and spent close to $103. Salman drove the family to the store – in a few days, she would be taking her driver’s test for a license and needed to practice, defense lawyers said. Mateen picked up 200 rounds of .38 caliber ammunition for the gun issued to him by G4S for his job as a security guard at PGA Village community. Salman and her son left in a different direction. Surveillance video shows they met again at the sporting goods register. Their son slid a Paw Patrol toy onto the checkout counter while they were paying for the ammunition.

Mateen did not use his work handgun during the shooting at Pulse – it was left in the rental van he drove that night.

Prosecutors pointed out in her statements to the FBI, Salman said, "I knew Omar was preparing for jihad when he … bought the ammunition. I saw these things as a green light for Omar to do an act of violence." Salman’s defense argued it was not uncommon for Mateen to buy ammunition for shooting practice.

June 1: In between searches for ISIS content on Google on his phone, Mateen was also looking up the answers to the questions, "adding child’s name to bank account," and "adding wife’s name to bank account." Mateen’s annual salary was about $30,000, and he was the only one listed on a bank account at PNC – defense attorneys said a bank employee had originally discouraged the couple from a joint bank account because of Salman’s student debt. Salman was also searching Google that day for answers to the question, "Does spouse’s bad credit affect a joint bank account." On June 1, the couple went to a Fort Pierce PNC bank where Mateen added Salman and their son as payable-upon-death beneficiaries. 

June 3: Mateen visited the St. Lucie Shooting Center, a gun range that also includes a store. While there, he bought 100 rounds of .38 ammunition with a Wells Fargo credit card for his work revolver for $42. Throughout the day, he looked at ISIS news stories and also read reviews for the semiautomatic Sig Sauer MCX rifle – the weapon ultimately used at Pulse. Salman was not present at the shooting center.

June 4: While at his job as a security guard from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Mateen watched a video in which Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, an ISIL leader, called for people to carry out attacks during Ramadan. After looking up reviews on the semiautomatic assault weapon, Mateen went back to the St. Lucie Shooting Center and purchased a Sig Sauer MCX for $1,837 and 1,000 rounds of .223 ammunition for $351.  He also bought three magazines for the rifle for $40; 100 more rounds of .38 ammunition for $42 and a box of .40 caliber ammunition. Mateen made these purchases with two different credit cards in his name.

Again, Salman wasn’t present here – he didn’t text or call her about this expensive purchase or appear to seek her permission, according to his phone records. Prosecutors, though, say she told FBI agents she "knew Omar was preparing for jihad when he bought the rifle," but her defense argues she saw the green rifle case in the trunk of their car days after her husband bought it.

Later on the night of June 4, the couple and their child made a trip south from Fort Pierce to Delray Beach, which was more than an hour away. In between these two locations was the outdoor shopping mall CityPlace in West Palm Beach. Salman allegedly told FBI agents in her statements, "About a week ago, Omar said he wanted to go look at 'City Place' in Palm Beach … We drove around City Place with the car windows down about 45 minutes. Omar was driving slowly looking at the clubs located at City Place. While driving around City Place, he said, 'How bad would it be if a club got attacked.'" Prosecutors showed evidence of the couple and their son that night on the Florida turnpike and in a West Palm Beach convenience store in the early morning hours of June 5.

But defense attorneys pointed out the government showed no surveillance footage of them driving around and casing CityPlace. Further, the defense said it’s unlikely the family was at CityPlace at 1 a.m. like Salman allegedly told FBI agents because cellphone tower location data showed they were already in Delray Beach at that time.

June 5: On his third visit that week to the St. Lucie Shooting Center, Mateen bought a 9mm Glock for almost $550 using a credit card in his name. This pistol was also used in the attack. Unlike the Sig Sauer MCX rifle, Mateen wasn’t able to leave the gun store with the 9mm Glock – Florida law required him to wait three days to pick up the handgun. In the days before Pulse, Mateen had also been researching Florida’s gun rules and was reading stories about gun store owners who had turned in suspicious people. Later that day, Mateen invited his extended family to Carrabba's, where he spent $183 on dinner.

June 6: Mateen called in sick to work and rented a white Sonata from Enterprise car rental. The couple went to the Silver & Gold Connection at Treasure Coast Square in Jensen Beach, where they bought gold earrings and necklaces for about $228 with a credit card. At a nearby Best Buy in Stuart, the couple spent about $1,250 for an iPad mini and a Nikon camera. Salman’s defense said the camera was to take pictures of their young son. At a Kay Jewelers in Jensen Beach, the couple bought an engagement ring for about $7,552 and a wedding band for almost $1,166, all paid for on a newly opened credit plan with Kay Jewelers. One of the government's witnesses was the Kay Jewelers' employee who testified that Mateen seemed aggravated and disconnected during the purchase, but Salman seemed focused and knew what kind of ring she wanted. 

June 7: Salman went to the local DMV office to take her driver's test. Her defense attorneys said she wanted to get her license to be able to take her son to school. On this first attempt she failed, but she went back early the next morning on June 8 to take the test again and passed. While Salman was taking the exam, Mateen was obsessively searching for content about ISIS suicide bombings and the FBI. According to his web history, one page read, "FBI wants access to Internet browser history without a warrant in terrorism and spy cases."

June 8: This was probably the most important date in the prosecution's case against Salman in their attempt to prove she knew about her husband's plans for a massacre. On June 8, Salman, Mateen and their son traveled to Orlando around 6 p.m. They first arrived at the Bass Pro Shops, where Mateen picked up three magazines for his rifle. Surveillance video showed that as Mateen was paying at the register, Salman and her son walked up near the counter and picked out what looked like candy. Mateen paid about $50 for the purchase on his credit card. Prosecutors said Salman was an active participant in this purchase, but her defense argued she wasn't helping Mateen pick out magazines.

From there, the family went to the Florida Mall at 7:48 p.m. At Zales, they spent $851 on diamond earrings with a credit card. They also went to Michael Kors and Victoria's Secret, spending about $683 and $356 respectively.

From there, they went to Disney Springs, where they were seen on surveillance footage. At this point, prosecutors said Salman allegedly told FBI agents in her statement that Mateen left her and her son for 20 minutes. "I don't know what he was doing," the statement said. "When leaving downtown Disney, Omar said, 'What would make people more upset, an attack on downtown Disney or a club.'"

After Disney Springs, the family traveled to King O Falafel restaurant in Kissimmee. A receipt shows they purchased food at 10:29 p.m. Salman allegedly told FBI Special Agent Ricardo Enriquez that after eating at the Arabic restaurant, they traveled to Pulse. "We drove around the Pulse nightclub for about 20 minutes with the windows of the car down," the statement said. "Omar was driving slowly, looking around, and at one point stated, 'How upset are people going to be when it gets attacked." In the margins of her statement, Salman wrote in, "I knew he was talking about himself doing the attack on the Pulse."

But as the prosecution's own witness, FBI Special Agent Richard Fennern, said it would have been "highly unlikely" that Mateen and Salman drove to scout out the club during this time. For one, cellphone towers near Pulse did not connect with their phones at this time.

"[Mateen's] phone did not come up to the area of Pulse until 12:41 a.m. on June 12," Fennern said. "Prior to that, his phone had never been up here. [Salman's] phone had never been near the Pulse nightclub."

Two, surveillance footage showed they stopped at a Kissimmee mosque at 11:16 p.m. – about 45 minutes after initially buying food at the Arabic restaurant. It would have been highly improbable for them to make that type of round trip because there wasn't enough time. By 11:56 p.m., they were heading back down to Fort Pierce.

This inconsistency proved a major blow to the prosecution's case – it cast doubt on the trustworthiness of Enriquez, who testified that during their interview, Salman was "too nervous to write," so he had transcribed her dictated statements. All the FBI agents who interviewed Salman that day said they chose not to record or videotape their conversations with Salman, despite the technology to do so being readily available. This contradiction also allowed Salman's attorneys to argue she was coerced by the FBI into making a false confession.

After discovering that Salman and Mateen probably didn't case Pulse on June 8, Fennern told the court he informed the FBI case agents of his findings in the days after the shooting. Yet prosecutors still used this false statement in a March 2017 motion to revoke Salman's bond and keep her in jail for more than a year.

June 9:
Mateen went to the Bass Pro Shops in Port St. Lucie where he bought a cap, knife, an additional 30-round magazine for the Sig Sauer MCX, two revolver speedloaders and a pen light for $348 using a credit card in his name. After that, he went to Enterprise Rental to trade in the Sonata for a 2016 Dodge Caravan – the vehicle he ultimately used to travel to Pulse. The defense pointed out that he chose a vehicle with higher horsepower. Later, Mateen went to pick up the 9mm Glock at the St. Lucie Shooting Center and decided to buy additional magazines for the Glock, ammunition and time on the range for target practice. In total, he spent about $232. None of the evidence presented showed Salman was with him during these purchases or that he communicated to her about them.

June 10: Salman traveled to Treasure Coast Square, where she spent $132 at Sunglass Hut and $156 at Urban Express on clothes. Before making her first purchase, she texted Mateen, "Can I get sunglasses?" He answered her, "Yes :)." On June 10, Mateen's web history was all over the place. In between his usual obsession with searching for the FBI and ISIS videos, he seemed concerned about banks shutting down his credit cards and the maximum amount of cash he could withdraw from his PNC bank. He exchanged conversations with Salman that day about buying plane tickets to California for their family – but he was also searching for cheap flights to Istanbul, Turkey. Before work at 3 p.m. that day, he went to a Walmart in Fort Pierce and bought diamond stud earrings for almost $637. In the weeks before the attack, Mateen had spent more than $26,500 buying jewelry, clothes, toys, guns and ammunition on credit cards.

Prosecutors said that in her statements to the FBI, Salman said Mateen was looking at the Pulse website late at night. "When I saw what he was looking at, he said, 'This is my target.' I knew that the time to attack the club was close.'" But a review of web history on Mateen's and Salman's computers and phones showed no evidence they accessed the Pulse website. Prosecutors said Mateen may have been visiting the website in Google Chrome's incognito mode, which would not have necessarily recorded accessing the site. But defense expert Joshua Horowitz testified that incognito mode doesn't prevent a device's IP address from pinging accessed websites. Horowitz said none of the couple's devices accessed the Pulse nightclub website during this time, which again contradicts Salman's alleged statement.

Around 1 a.m., Salman texted her husband, "I told ur parents your paying for cali with points from pnc and job." After he responds, "K," Salman texts back, "I'll be waiting :)." It's unclear just from reading the texts if Salman means she'll be waiting for him in California. 

June 11: Early in the morning, Mateen makes a stop at his local PNC Bank wearing his security uniform and withdraws $4,000. Throughout the day while at his security guard job, Mateen searched for ISIS content and video messages from the terrorist group. He also searched for the "Orlando Police Department" at 10:56 a.m., and subsequently looked up webcams in the area of Kissimmee, Orlando and Disney.

Around 10:53 a.m., Salman texts Mateen that she's going to the bank with her son – surveillance footage showed her at Bank of America that morning depositing $500 into an account that only had less than $5. The last web browsing activity by Mateen happened at about 1:16 p.m., and then his phone was inactive for a while until after 7 p.m. His mother, Shahla Mateen, testified that he stopped by her home in Port St. Lucie to say hello after he finished work. Bank transactions and Salman's previous statement to the New York Times put him at McDonald's, where Salman says he took her and her son. He withdrew another $1,500 from the PNC Bank. Prosecutors said Mateen gave Salman the money, but it wasn't clear how much. In her interview with the Times, Salman said her husband had given her $1,000 that day for the trip to California. It's unclear at what time, but bank transactions show Mateen purchased three round-trip tickets for the family from West Palm Beach to Sacramento. Salman's friend, testifying under a pseudonym, told the court Salman had called twice on June 11 to tell her about her trip to California and ask about her kids' clothing sizes so she could buy them presents. 

In her alleged confession, Salman said the last time she saw Mateen was about 5 p.m. on June 11 with a backpack of ammunition. "Omar took his handgun from the closet, put it in his holster, cover it with his shirt and said he was going to see his friend 'Nemo.'" FBI Agent Enriquez said that at first, Salman said Mateen told her he would see her after prayer – but after hours of being interviewed, Salman told Enriquez two more versions of the story. In the second one, Mateen told her "This is the one day." In the third version, she told Enriquez she knew when her husband left that day to see Nemo he was "going to do something bad."

The defense cast doubt on this confession when they pointed out that Mateen had left both his holsters at home. His work gun, found near the van he took to Pulse, was in its blue case.

Around 5:51 p.m., Shahla Mateen called Salman after she couldn't reach her son to invite him and his family to break fast that night at their mosque for Ramadan. Salman told her Mateen would be eating dinner at his friend Nemo's house, and that she wanted to stay home with her son to meet his bedtime. After speaking with her mother-in-law, Salman called Mateen and couldn't reach him. She texted him at 5:55 p.m., saying, "If ur mom calls say nimo invited you out and noor wants to stay home. She asked where you were xoxo. Love you." Then about 20 minutes later, Salman again texted, "Call ur mom she is worried." Shahla Mateen testified that at the mosque, Nemo's mother told her their sons could not possibly be dining together because Nemo was out of state in medical school rotation.

Prosecutors said these texts proved Salman helped Mateen create a cover story to avoid being stopped by his mother and then deleted those texts. But the defense pointed out that Salman regularly deleted her texts. Mateen's longtime friend, who was only referred to as "Nemo" during court proceedings, testified that he was "shocked and horrified" that Mateen used him as an excuse but "wasn't surprised because I know he had used that excuse before, seeing me." Nemo testified that Mateen told him he had used that excuse before with Salman to cheat on her. The defense also brought in two women who had trysts with Mateen outside of his marriage.

After her husband left, Salman went to Applebee's and to a Walmart in Fort Pierce to buy her husband a Father's Day card and gift for her husband. "Dad, I love you a lot! You do so much for me and mommy! May Allah bless you and protect you from evil," Salman wrote in the card on behalf of their son. Later, toward midnight, her web history shows she stayed up shopping for biker jackets until about 1:32 a.m.

Mateen received the texts and missed calls from his wife and mother when he powered his phone back on at 7:27 p.m. on June 11, and at some point, he called his mother and told her about eating dinner with Nemo. He ate at Kabsah restaurant in Orlando, where he bought $49.80 in food. Around 10 p.m., he was at Disney Springs and searched for "disney springs" on his phone at 10:27 p.m. Surveillance footage later showed Mateen pacing near the House of Blues, where he would later buy a shirt for $26.63. During their closing arguments, prosecutors theorized that Disney Springs – not Pulse – was the target of Mateen's attack, and that he planned to use a baby stroller and baby doll he bought at Walmart to hide the rifle. But a heavy police presence near House of Blues seemed to have scared him off. At 11:05 p.m., he searched for "disney world" and cellphone location data put him near the area of Epcot, according to evidence submitted by the defense.

At 12:22 a.m., Mateen made one more search for "downtown orlando nightclubs."

June 12:  After Mateen searched for downtown Orlando nightclubs, he got directions from Google toward the EVE Orlando nightclub on Orange Avenue. He got on Interstate 4 and headed north toward downtown, arriving on Central Boulevard at 12:55 a.m. with the intention of turning right onto Orange Avenue into the vicinity of EVE, according to defense expert Richard Connor Jr.

But instead he kept going on Central Boulevard to Summerlin Avenue, where he appears to turn right and head back toward South Orange Avenue, past City Hall and State Road 408 toward Pulse between 1:12 a.m. and 1:16 a.m. He passed the gay nightclub. He searched again for "downtown orlando nightclubs" at 1:33 a.m., got directions back to EVE and started driving away from the area near Pulse. But by 1:35 a.m., he abandoned his plan to go to EVE and headed back to Pulse, where he stayed the rest of the night.

The defense argued Mateen didn't know where he would commit his attack, so his wife couldn't possibly have helped him plan out his attack on the club.

Minutes before the attack, Pulse security guard Neal Whittleton said in a statement that he was on the club's patio when he met a man who later turned out to be Mateen. He asked Whittleton, "Hey, why is it so slow tonight? Where are the girls at?" Whittleton says after walking away from Mateen, he felt him looking him up and down, as if he were checking for a gun. "You’re security, right?" Mateen asked him. "Yeah, I see you here all the time." Whittleton said he had never seen Mateen in his life.

"I had no idea that he was the shooter," Whittleton said in his statement.  Mateen went inside the club, got a drink at the bar and watched his future victims having fun on the dance floor before walking out of the club to get his weapons from his van.

At 2:02 a.m., the first shots rang out at Pulse.

Graphic surveillance video from inside Pulse showed Mateen mowing down the crowd with a gun, as people fell on top of each other onto the floor. About 30 minutes after the attack as police surrounded the club and he held hostages in the bathroom, Mateen posted on Facebook, "America and Russia stop bombing the Islamic state..I pledge my alliance to abu bakr al baghdadi..may Allah accept me." Then, "You kill innocent women and children by doing us airstrikes."

At 2:42 a.m., Salman texted Mateen, "Habibi where are you?" as Mateen searched for news stories about his attack as hostage negotiators from Orlando Police tried to speak with him.

"Where are you?" Salman said again at 4:27 a.m.
"Everything ok?" Mateen responded.
"Your mom I'd [sic] worried and so am I," she texted back.
"You heard what happened," Mateen asked her.
Salman appeared confused. "You know you work tomorrow right?" she replied. "???? What happened?!"

Salman and Shahla Mateen appeared to have desperately tried to call Mateen. His last text, at 4:29 a.m., is to Salman. "I love you babe," he wrote. She responded, "Habibi what happened?! Your mom said that she said to come over and you never did."

After a three-hour standoff where he killed 49 people and wounded more than 68, Mateen was confronted around 5 a.m. by police officers who broke into the bathroom where he was holding people hostage. Mateen shot at police officers, who responded with gunfire. He was dead by 5:15 a.m.

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