The first time Noor Salman got married, the wedding celebration was held in an apartment belonging to her father’s family just a few blocks from the Palestinian presidential compound in Ramallah.
In a nod to her roots in this West Bank city, the bride from Rodeo, Calif., wore a dress of traditional Palestinian embroidery for a pre-wedding hinnah ceremony.
This week, Salman’s aunt, Mona Salman, was hosting guests for a Ramadan breakfast meal in the same apartment when a neighbor called to tell her that Noor’s second husband, Omar Mateen, had shot up a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., killing 49 people before being shot dead by police.
“I was shocked,” said the 72-year-old aunt, the older sister of Noor’s deceased father, Zahi. “I started wailing and screaming. She is our flesh and blood.”
Noor is a simpleton. Things happen around her and she is not aware of it.
Now with Noor suspected by the FBI of knowing of Mateen’s plans and keeping them to herself, the aunt choked back sobs and said she could hardly believe her niece was aware of such a plot.
“Noor is a simpleton. Things happen around her and she is not aware of it,’’ she said. People in the city of Al Birah “are very conservative and her mother always kept them at home. This is why I’m worried, because Noor doesn’t know much. She probably didn’t know anything that her husband was planning or thinking because she’s a very simple woman.”
Her remarks dovetail, in some respects, with those of a neighbor of the Salman family in California, Jasbinder Chahal, who told the Associated Press that Noor Salman was sheltered as a girl and was “not the smartest.”
Zahi Salman, who emigrated from the West Bank at 16, ran a grocery store in Richmond, Calif., together with two brothers, Bassam and Abdallah. Noor’s mother, Ekbal, came from a large family, the Qu’rans, in the Al Birah area on the northern outskirts of Ramallah.
A brother of Ekbal, Mohammed Tayem Qu’ran, refused to discuss Noor Salman or Mateen, whose family came to the United States from Afghanistan. “He is Afghani. I live in Al Birah. We denounce such acts and have nothing to do with them,” he said.
The paternal aunt said that the family regularly attended services at a mosque in Rodeo and that Noor studied about Muslim traditions at a Sunday school. When Noor was about 12, Ekbal brought her and her sisters to Ramallah and enrolled the children in a school so that they would learn Palestinian traditions and Arabic.
“Nour loved Arabic traditions and customs. She loved Arabic foods,’’ Mona Salman said.
Salman said that Noor didn’t enroll in college after high school, preferring to focus on caring for children. Her first marriage was arranged by the family with a local man who went back to the United States with her. She said she didn’t know why the couple later split
Court records in the United States show that Noor Salman wed Ahmed Abu-Rahma on June 8, 2005. She filed for divorce in 2009, citing irreconcilable differences. The divorce was finalized on Feb. 26, 2010, at Contra Costa County Superior Court in Martinez
Mona Salman said that she only occasionally spoke to her niece and had never met her second husband, but that she believed they were living a good life in Fort Pierce, Fla.
“Every time we asked, `How is your husband?’ She said, ‘We’re comfortable. We’re happy.’ She was happy with her husband…. On the Facebook, they’re always loving each other, hugging each other.”
The aunt said her U.S. sibling described Mateen as a “good man” from a “good family. As long as he’s a good man, and he takes care of our daughter, that’s what is important.’’
Mitnick is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Rong-Gong Lin II in Rodeo, Calif., contributed to this report.