This story was reported by Anthony M. DeStefano, Kevin Deutsch, Emily C. Dooley and Deon J. Hampton. It was written by Dooley.
The wife of the New York-born Muslim man who killed 49 people at an Orlando, Florida, nightclub early Sunday may have known her husband planned to carry out the attack and had given him a ride there in the days before the mass shooting, a federal law enforcement source said Tuesday.
Noor Zahi Salman, 30, was also scared of her husband, Omar Mateen, 29, and tried to convince him to abandon his plan to carry out an attack and not “hurt anybody” at the Pulse nightclub or any other locations, the source added.
The nighttime drive to Pulse was likely to examine the level of security at the popular gay-friendly club, the source said.
Salman believed Mateen was mentally ill. Despite her concerns, she held onto the belief that Mateen may have “just been talking” and had not actually committed to killing people, the source said.
No decision had been made on whether to charge Salman with a crime, the source said. If prosecutors believe his wife had knowledge that an attack was imminent and did not notify authorities, she could be charged, the source said. Her ongoing cooperation with the FBI, however, could be a mitigating factor for prosecutors, he said.
Her fear of her husband may have been part of the reason she didn’t report him, the source said.
The incident at Pulse began just after 2 a.m. Sunday when Mateen exchanged gunfire with an off-duty Orlando police officer. Along with the 49 dead, Mateen wounded 53 patrons, six of whom remain in critical condition, before being fatally shot by officers.
Relatives and friends of the 53 wounded huddled in local medical centers Tuesday awaiting updates on their loved ones’ conditions.
Minerva Perez said she was on the third day of her own personal vigil by the Orlando hospital room of her friend Ilka Reyes.
“This hit me hard,” said Perez, 47, a chef from the Kissimmee area. “Many of my friends left this world and she’s hanging on.”
The outpouring of grief and concern rippled throughout the country.
On Long Island, more than 130 people attended an interfaith prayer vigil for the Orlando shooting victims Tuesday night at the Congregational Church of Huntington.
“This is horrific, I can’t imagine the loss of a child or parent or co-worker or loved one,” said Lisa Lopiano Moskowitz, 54, of Huntington Station.
The FBI is investigating reports that patrons reported seeing Mateen, who was born in New Hyde Park and lived in Flushing and Westbury for a time, at a number of gay nightclubs in the region in recent years and specifically at Pulse within the last month.
During the attack, Mateen reportedly had a knowledge of the layout of the club, including exit and entry points, as well as possible hiding places. “He was clearly familiar,” the source said.
He also used several gay dating apps on his phone, which police found at the scene covered in blood and are now analyzing.
A computer, digital camera and other electronics are also being examined, though cursory looks showed he consumed large amounts of jihadist propaganda, including ISIS beheading videos and videos of radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico and was the first American killed in a drone strike in 2011.
Authorities are also investigating if anyone helped Mateen plan the attack or knew about it in advance.
The shooter’s father, Seddique Mir Mateen, said he was unaware when his son and Salman last spoke and that she would not be available for interviews Tuesday.
“Later on, once everybody is ready, we will do a family apology,” the elder Mateen said.
Mateen attended the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, the same place where Moner Mohammad Abusalha once worshipped. Abusalha was the first American-born terrorist to carry out a suicide bomb attack in Syria.
During a news briefing Tuesday, NYPD Chief of Intelligence Thomas Galati revealed that Mateen took online Islamic classes from a former New York area bank robber and gang member who had moved to Orlando.
Galati didn’t reveal the name of the individual, but other law enforcement sources and published accounts identified him as Marcus Dwayne Robertson, who is also known as Abu Taubah and affiliated with the Timbuktu Seminary Online in Orlando, formerly known as the Fundamental Islamic Knowledge Seminary, police said.
In a telephone interview with Newsday late Monday, defense attorney Daniel Brodersen said Robertson denied that he ever spoke with or knew Mateen or that he ever registered for courses online.
Federal court records in Florida show that Robertson was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison last year in connection with an income tax fraud case. The sentence also covered a federal firearms case.
At sentencing, federal prosecutors said that Robertson “had been an extremist for many years” and was the leader of the “Forty Thieves,” which was a group of Muslims who in the early 1990s conducted armed robberies of banks and government institutions to get money for buying weapons and explosives, court records stated.
Around the time of the 1991 Persian Gulf conflict, the Forty Thieves stockpiled weapons and explosives in preparation for a fight against the “perceived threat of internment of Muslims by the United States,” according to the government sentencing memorandum. Prosecutors also stated said that Robertson was involved in the murder of several people, used pipe bombs and attempted murder of police officers.
As the investigation continued, families began the long process of saying goodbye. At least 20 bodies had been released to funeral homes by Tuesday afternoon and all autopsies were expected to be completed.
Autopsies ware required because the deaths are all classified as homicides.
Puerto Rico’s Justice Secretary Cesar Miranda said 23 of the people killed either had moved to the United States from the island or were born to Puerto Rican parents, according to The Associated Press.
“Intolerance about gender preferences, discrimination against Latin Americans in the United States and broad access to weapons” led to the attack, he said.