The FBI is said to be considering filing charges against Orlando shooter Omar Mateen’s wife Noor Zahi Salman, who reportedly suspected he was planning an attack at the Pulse gay nightclub.
Salman, 30, has told FBI investigators she tried to stop Mateen but he left, saying he was only meeting friends, according to NBC News, which first reported this development.
A few hours later, Mateen opened fire at the nightclub, leaving 49 people dead and 53 wounded in the worst mass shooting in US history, before being killed by a police SWAT team.
But Salman, who married Mateen in 2011, failed to warn authorities. She is now cooperating with investigators, who fear she may stop if criminally charged or placed under arrest.
Salman has told investigators, according to multiple reports, that she had accompanied Mateen on one of his trips to scope out Pulse, and he also bought ammunition and a holster in front of her.
Salman was raised in a Palestinian-descent family in California, and met Mateen on a dating site, as did his first wife Sitora Yusufiy. They married in September 2011 after Mateen’s divorce and the couple has a three-year-old son.
Mateen, 29, was shot dead by police after a three-hour standoff at the Pulse club early on Sunday. He called 911 during his shooting spree to profess allegiance to various militant Islamist groups.
Federal investigators have said he was likely self-radicalised and there was no evidence that he received any instructions or aid from outside groups such as Islamic State.
Unlike Yusufiy, who has talked about her short-lived marriage to Mateen and called him “unstable”, “bipolar” with “gay tendencies”, Salman has not spoken publicly about their relationship.
She had a sheltered upbringing, according to Jasbinder Chahal, a neighbour who lived across the road from her family and was interviewed by the Associated Press.
“You know, some kids after high school, they open up the box and the world is theirs,” Chahal said. “She was inside the box, just pack it up and get married.”
Chahal added: “Noor never played in the street, and the girls were never allowed to drive.”
Salman’s mother, Ekbal Zahi Salman, lives in a middle-class neighbourhood of the suburban town of Rodeo, California. A neighbour said Salman only visited her mother once after she married Mateen.
Her mother “didn’t like him very much. He didn’t allow her (Noor) to come here,” said Chahal. He said he had spoken to Noor Salman’s mother after the Orlando attack. “She was crying, weeping.”
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.
“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.
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 on the investigation and requested anonymity to discuss it.
The owner of the Pulse nightclub, 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 email when asked about the claim.
(With inputs from agencies)