Wife of Pulse nightclub shooter says she was subjected to years of abuse

‘People were like, if she’s innocent and didn’t do (anything), why isn’t she clearing her name?’

Bevan Hurley
Thursday 14 October 2021 14:50
Neighborhood around Pulse Nightclub healing, growing

The wife of the gunman who murdered 49 people in the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting says she was subjected to years of violent abuse at his hands.

In her first full interview, Noor Salman told Vice News that Omar Mateen had repeatedly beaten and raped her throughout their five-year marriage.

Ms Salman was charged and later acquitted of helping her husband plan the attack, in which Mateen sprayed the Orlando club with bullets, killing dozens and wounding 53 people, before being shot dead by police.

The club, popular with the LGBTQ community, was holding a Latin night when the attack began and most of the victims were Latino.

Ms Salman says she decided to break her silence as it was “time people know the truth”.

“People were like, ‘if she’s innocent and didn’t do (anything),’ why isn’t she clearing her name?’” she told Vice. “I just didn’t talk because I didn’t have the strength.”

Ms Salman met her future husband on a website called Arab Lounge in 2011 and they were married soon after.

She said soon after she became pregnant with their first child, “the script flipped”.

Mateen turned into a “monster” with an explosive temper, and repeatedly abused her.

He also turned on their son, once cutting the then-two-year-old’s toy pig in half with a knife.

In 2013, Mateen was placed on a terrorist watch list by the FBI after telling workmates that he hoped to become a martyr, and claiming he was connected to al Qaeda.

Noor Salman has changed her name as she tries to erase the memory of Omar Mateen

After a 10-month investigation, the FBI found no connection to Islamic extremists, but failed to interview Ms Salman or his first wife Sitora Yusufiy.

Ms Yusufiy has also spoken out about the abuse she suffered at Mateen’s hands, writing in an essay for Marie Claire in 2016 how he had threatened to kill her if she ever left him.

On the night of the terror attack on 12 June 2016, Ms Salman woke to a phone call from police.

As the rampage was still unfolding, Ms Salman was ordered out of the apartment in her pajamas with guns trained upon her and taken to an FBI field office where she was questioned for 11 hours.

She says she didn’t think about asking for a lawyer, and was only told that her husband had committed a violent act.

Omar Mateen was described as a ‘monster’ by his ex-wife

Towards the end of the interrogation, she signed a statement admitting she had seen Mateen looking at extremist sites and expressing anger at events in the Middle East.

She later falsely confessed to casing the Pulse nightclub with Mateen, and claimed she had advance knowledge of his intentions to target the club.

Ms Salman was arrested in San Francisco in 2017 and spent a year in prison before going on trial in March 2018.

It emerged during the trial that Mateen had spontaneously decided to target Pulse, and the government’s case against Ms Salman fell apart.

Defence lawyers said the FBI coerced Ms Salman’s statement and she signed it because she was exhausted after extensive questioning and feared losing her young son.

After her acquittal, domestic violence advocates questioned how the charges had ever been brought.

Ms Salman returned to the town of Rodeo, California, where she grew up.

She’s only just stopped wearing disguises when she goes out, and after living off her late husband’s $1,000 a month social security checks, has begun to look for work.

But after being placed on a no-fly list, she still gets stopped when trying to board flights.

Before catching a flight to Chicago to speak at Muslim Legal Fund of America’s annual gala in 2020, she was detained by TSA officials and questioned for two hours, missing her flight.

Her focus now is on raising her nine-year-old son, who is aware of what his father did, “to be normal”.

She has changed her last name and told her son not to tell friends of their connection to the case, the deadliest attack on the LGBTQ community in US history.