Jury in Pulse massacre trial see texts between gunman and wife: ‘I love you babe’
Noor Salman and her husband, Omar Mateen, exchanged text messages during his attack at the Pulse nightclub almost two years ago, jurors in the widow’s trial were shown Wednesday morning.
At 4:27 a.m. — during a standoff with police more than two hours after Mateen first opened fire inside the Orlando club on June 12, 2016 — Salman texted Mateen, twice asking, “where are you?” The exchange happened about the time that police called her at the couple’s home in Fort Pierce, Fla., asking her to leave their apartment.
“Everything ok?” Mateen replied.
Salman responded, reminding her husband that he had to work the next day. His mother was “worried and so am I,” she wrote. Mateen responded: “You heard what happened.”
“????” Salman replied. “What happened?!” As Salman texted, Mateen’s mother called him twice. He didn’t answer. “Omar call me ... I am so worried,” she said in a voicemail. “Please call me.”
By the time he and Salman were trading texts, as jurors saw earlier in the trial, Mateen had already gunned down victims throughout Pulse with an AR-15-style rifle, tracing a methodical and bloody path as patrons fled, hid and called for help.
“I love you babe,” Mateen wrote in his last text message at 4:29 a.m.
“Habibi what happened?!” Salman said, using an Arabic term of endearment. “Your mom said that she said to come over and you never did.”
Salman is accused of aiding and abetting her husband’s material support of a foreign terror organization, the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS. She is also charged with obstruction of justice. If convicted as charged, she faces the possibility of life in federal prison. Mateen died in a shootout with police after the massacre, in which he killed 49 people and wounded dozens more.
Earlier Wednesday, Salman’s jury saw records of Mateen’s expansive online research prior to the massacre at Pulse, including searches for Islamic State, violence in the Middle East, other acts of terrorism — and places to get guns.
Kim Rosecrans, an information technology specialist with the FBI, testified about dozens of searches on Mateen’s smartphone in May and June, underscoring Mateen’s obsession with Islamic State.
He looked up jihadists fighting in Syria; ISIS-claimed suicide bombings in Iraq; messages from the group urging attacks during the holy month of Ramadan; the 2009 mass shooting at Ft. Hood in Texas; and U.S.-led bombings, including the one that killed Abu Waheeb.
While speaking with an Orlando police hostage negotiator, Mateen would claim his attack at Pulse was “triggered” by the May 6 death of Waheeb, an ISIS leader in Iraq.
Mateen also researched ways to acquire guns, Rosecrans’ testimony showed. He looked up different types of firearms, the process for making a purchase at a gun show, Florida’s laws concerning assault rifles and places to buy, including Walmart and Bass Pro Shops.
He also appeared to be concerned about being watched by the government — with results like “My family’s Google searching got us a visit from counterterrorism police” and “The NSA might be reading your searches, but your local police probably aren’t” — and various law-enforcement agencies.
However, under questioning by Salman’s defense, Rosecrans said Mateen’s internet visits also included dating sites and a link about masturbation. Those entries, defense attorney Charles Swift said, “don’t suggest Mateen was sharing his phone much with his wife.”
That could be an important point: Salman’s defense argues her husband kept secrets from her — ranging from infidelity to his intentions to carry out mass murder.
Prosecutors in Salman’s trial hope to rest their case by Thursday morning. Next, her defense plans to call eight to 10 witnesses before the case goes to the jury.
That means a verdict could come as soon as next week.
On Tuesday, jurors heard from FBI agents who questioned Salman in the hours after the attack and also people who interacted with Salman and Mateen in the preceding weeks.
Her behavior before the massacre, and her reaction to the news of her husband’s death, is important to the case against her because prosecutors say Salman knew in advance about her husband’s plot.
Lotan and Torralva write for the Orlando Sentinel.
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