The mysterious second wife of Orlando terrorist Omar Mateen drove with him to pick up ammunition and a holster, NBC News reports, citing law enforcement. Noor Zahi Salman also reportedly drove Mateen to the gay nightclub Pulse to case the place before he killed 49 people on there on Sunday night.
Salman, 30, has not made any public statements about her husband and little is known about her. She left her home in Port St. Lucie after midnight on Tuesday, escorted by friends and dressed in a gray sweatshirt, local television station WSVN reported. Salman lowered her head and did not comment to the media.
Salman lived with Mateen at his home on the Atlantic coast. News reports suggest the couple has been together since 2013. She scrubbed her social media presence after Mateen’s attack, but one existing photo of her shows her smiling with Mateen, their 3-year-old son between them.
Public records show Salman was a student at the now-defunct Heald College-Concord. Facebook accounts for her relatives show they are Palestinian. But they don't appear to have been strictly religious. Salman and her sisters did not wear the hijab, according to posts, in contrast to ISIS’s requirements for women. Mateen’s ex-wife has stated that Mateen was not very religious when they were married.
While Salman’s family posted about Israel’s 2014 war in Gaza, they don’t appear otherwise political or ideological, and their social media profiles don’t indicate any sympathies with extremist groups. Mateen, however, pledged allegiance to ISIS in a 911 call placed during the attack.
NBC News cited sources in law enforcement who said Salman is cooperating with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. She is reported to have allegedly admitted to driving him to Pulse, and knowing he bought ammunition on June 9, two days before the attack.
Wives have been known to help terrorists in the past. Most recently, Syed Farook’s wife Tashfeen Malik joined him in a police chase after he killed 14 people at a community center in San Bernardino. The extent of her involvement in planning the attack remains unclear, but much of the aftermath focused on Malik's beliefs, education, and ideology. In fact, authorities believe that it was a Facebook account associated with her that posted a pledge of allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.
Salman allegedly tried to dissuade him from attacking the club, NBC News reports, citing officials. She has not yet been charged in relation to the attack, but NBC News and ABC News report authorities are considering charges.
Even if Salman was not part of the plot, there's reason to think she might have valuable insights into the Pulse shooting. Audrey Alexander, a researcher with the George Washington University Program on Extremism, told The Daily Beast that it's not uncommon for those planning a terror attack to let information slip to close confidantes. One study, she added, puts such "leakage" at nearly 50 percent.
"People don't necessarily know whether or not to take it seriously," Alexander said. "In other cases, [desire to tell someone] can be repressed by violence or threats."
And plotting is especially easy to dismiss "if you don't know the depth of someone's radicalization or their mental state," she added.
The depth of knowlege a confidante has can vary. Amedy Coulibaly, the hostage-taker at a kosher supermarket in France, used his wife's phone to contact collaborators, Alexander said.
"This is where human error comes into political violence. If you have a vested interest in what you're about to do, you're eager to share it with other poeple," she explained. But other times, plotters share their plans in hopes that they'll be stopped.
"Sort of like stepping up on the ledge, about to jump," Alexander said.
It’s not clear how the couple met, but before moving to Florida, Salman lived for about ten years in Rodeo, California. Neighbors told The Mercury News that she had three sisters, and only returned home when her father died.
“Her mother would always complain that the husband did not let her visit the family,” neighbor Sarwan Kaur said.
The description of Mateen as a controlling husband match what his first wife, Sitora Yusufiy, has told the media. She met him through a dating service, and he initially seemed like a normal guy. Yet Mateen was physically and emotionally abusive during their brief 2009-2011 marriage, she said, adding he tried to cut her off from her family in New Jersey. Yusufiy said her parents eventually came down to Florida and rescued her from Mateen.
“He was not a stable person,” Yusufiy told The Washington Post. “He beat me. He would just come home and start beating me up because the laundry wasn’t finished or something like that.”
Mateen’s father, Seddique Mir Mateen, told the media on Tuesday that Salman would not be giving interview. A “family apology” is coming soon, the father said.
On Monday, patrons of Pulse and former classmates of Mateen’s speculated he was a closeted gay man. Pulse patrons said they had seen him at the club, occasionally being belligerent. The gay dating app Jack’d said Tuesday that it cannot confirm or deny an alleged profile for Mateen at this time after a user said Mateen asked him on the app what gay clubs to go to. A former classmate said Mateen asked him out “romantically once.” Finally, Mateen’s ex wife Yusufiy paused and said, “I don’t know” when asked on CNN if he was gay.