Orlando jihadi Omar Mateen’s wife, 30-year-old Noor Salman (whose whereabouts were a matter of controversy for some time after the massacre), has given her first interview since the Pulse Nightclub massacre to The New York Times.
The Times piece does not go into detail about her movements since the FBI seemingly lost track of her, although it suggests she is still a person of interest to law enforcement. The FBI is “still sorting out” her accounts of Mateen’s activities before the attack, and she is described as living in “legal limbo” because she might be charged with lying to the FBI.
Salman said she has moved three times since her husband’s rampage, “hoping to avoid the news media,” and asked the reporters to keep her current location confidential. The piece describes her as “shattered and afraid,” to the point that she sometimes has trouble getting out of bed.
Her lawyers pop up early in the article to insist she “did nothing wrong” and to forbid questions about her discussions with federal agents.
Salman said she gave the interview to let the world know, “I am human, I am a mother.”
“I was unaware of everything. I don’t condone what he has done. I am very sorry for what has happened. He has hurt a lot of people,” she said.
Her account of her marriage to Mateen begins on a much happier note, as she met him through an online dating site after an arranged marriage fell apart. She described him as a “gentle spirit” in the early days, although she said she was unaware his previous marriage ended because he beat his wife.
Salman said Mateen started getting abusive with her about six months into their marriage, at one point warning her not to let his parents know he was hitting her: “This stays between us, or it’s going to get worse.”
The abuse escalated to hair-pulling, choking, and chastising her in public with a nickname based on the Arabic word for “whore.” Salman said she stayed with him because she was afraid she would lose custody of their son if she left. When he began treating her better in the last weeks of his life, she thought she was being “rewarded for her silence.”
As for Mateen’s radicalization, The New York Times says: “Warning signs of radicalization can seem obvious in hindsight. Ms. Salman knew her husband watched jihadist videos, but she did not think much of it because the F.B.I. seemed to have cleared him, she said.” Experts are quoted saying his abusive behavior made his wife “totally oblivious to clues that he is getting radicalized or planning anything,” because she was “too busy trying to survive.”
On the other hand, Georgia State University professor Mia Bloom told The Times that studies show relatives and friends are aware of budding terrorist activities about 64 percent of the time and argued that Mateen’s abusive relationship with Salman “doesn’t give her a free pass as a bystander to not come forward.”
Salman insists she had no dark suspicions about several trips she took with Mateen that have been viewed as preparation for his terrorist career, although the lawyers notably intervened to prevent her from discussing the most notorious of these incidents, the April 2015 trip to Disneyworld that Mateen may have used to case the park for an attack.
Salman said she had no idea what Mateen was up to on the day of the attack. He surprised her with the gift of a California vacation to visit her mother, gave her some money, and said he wouldn’t be home for dinner because he had to visit a friend. She still has the Father’s Day card she made out for him that night, unaware of his true intentions until he sent her a 4:00 AM text message asking if she had seen what happened on the news.
According to Salman, the last message from her husband was a text message saying, “I love you babe.”
The audio from Omar Mateen’s 911 phone calls was just released to the public a few days ago, after considerable legal pressure from news organizations.