FBI investigates whether wife of shooter knew about massacre plan

  • Patience Carter, a victim in the Pulse nightclub shooting from Philadelphia, becomes emotional after giving her story during a news conference at Florida Hospital Orlando, Tuesday, June 14, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. Carter, a 20-year-old Philadelphian, was visiting Florida for the first time, vacationing with her two friends. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack) Phelan M. Ebenhack

  • Shooting victim Angel Santiago, right, wipes away a tear as Patience Carter, of Philadelphia, left, relays her experience of being in the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub during a news conference at Florida Hospital Orlando Tuesday, June 14, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. Listening at center is Dr. Brian Vickaryous. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack) Phelan M. Ebenhack

  • Kelli Cantu (left) and Soe Aponte shed tears Tuesday as they visit a growing memorial for the victims of the shooting. AP

  • This combination of photos shows some of the dozens of those killed in a mass shooting early Sunday, June 12, 2016 at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla. Top row from left are: Amanda Alvear, Angel L. Candelario-Padro, Anthony Luis Laureano Disla, Antonio Davon Brown, Christopher Leinonen, Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, Darryl Roman Burt II, Edward Sotomayor Jr. and Enrique L. Rios, Jr. Second row from left are: Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, Frank Hernandez, Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, Jason Benjamin Josaphat, Javier Jorge-Reyes, Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, Joel Rayon Paniagua and Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega. Third row from left are: Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, Juan Ramon Guerrero, Kimberly Morris, Leroy Valentin Fernandez, Luis D. Conde, Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, Luis S. Vielma, Martin Benitez Torres and Mercedez Marisol Flores. Bottom row from left are: Miguel Angel Honorato, Oscar A Aracena-Montero, Paul Terrell Henry, Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, Shane Evan Tomlinson, Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, Stanley Almodovar III, Tevin Eugene Crosby and Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado. (AP Photo)

  • Ronny Torres, right, is comforted by Zaid Hinds, as they visit a makeshift memorial for the victims of a mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub Monday, June 13, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. Hinds and Torres lost 12 friends in the shooting. (AP Photo/David Goldman) David Goldman

  • Rhonda Rodeffer, right, walks with her daughter Kennedy, 4, as they visit a makeshift memorial for the victims of a mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub Tuesday, June 14, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/David Goldman) David Goldman

  • A rainbow appears behind the U.S. flag flying at half-staff on top of the Tacoma Dome, Monday, June 13, 2016, in Tacoma, Wash. Flags across the state were at half-staff Monday to honor the victims of a mass shooting early Sunday at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren) Ted S. Warren

  • This undated image shows Omar Mateen, who authorities say killed dozens of people inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., on Sunday, June 12, 2016. The gunman opened fire inside the crowded gay nightclub before dying in a gunfight with SWAT officers, police said. (MySpace via AP)

  • President Barack Obama speaks at the Treasury Department in Washington, Tuesday, June 14, 2016, after meeting with his National Security Council to get updates on the investigation into the attack in Orlando, Florida and review efforts to degrade and destroy ISIL. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) Susan Walsh

Published: 6/15/2016 12:04:22 AM

The 30-year-old wife of the gunman who opened fire inside an Orlando nightclub is facing intense scrutiny as the FBI tries to determine whether she had advance knowledge of the massacre, according to federal authorities.

In interviews with Noor Salman, the FBI has learned that she accompanied her husband, Omar Mateen, on at least one trip to the club prior to the attack to do what a U.S. law enforcement official described as “reconnaissance.”

The FBI has not arrested Salman, as agents gather as much evidence as possible to determine whether she provided her husband with any assistance as he prepared for the assault at the club or had any inkling of his plan.

The focus on Mateen’s wife came as investigators continued to seek a concrete motive in the attack that left 49 people dead. Mateen, 29, said he carried out the attack because he wanted “Americans to stop bombing his country,” according to a witness who survived the rampage and heard the shooter make a 911 call.

Mateen made at least one other phone call during the standoff to an acquaintance in Florida, according to two U.S. law enforcement officials.

A second U.S. law enforcement official said that investigators recovered Mateen’s phone, which they were able to access. The official said it was not an iPhone.

President Obama said Tuesday that the gunman “was an angry, disturbed, unstable young man who became radicalized.”

Obama also said that the investigation has not turned up any suggestions that the gunman was directed by a foreign terrorist organization.

“It is increasingly clear, however, that the killer took in extremist information and propaganda over the Internet,” said Obama, who plans to travel to Orlando Thursday. Obama said that the Islamic State has made its propaganda “pervasive and easily accessible” and that it appeared the shooter in Orlando “absorbed some of that.”

Vice President Joe Biden, speaking at an event in New York, suggested Tuesday that the investigation had shown that the incident was “more straightforward” than it initially appeared.

“We are getting to the bottom of this, and it’s becoming clearer and more straightforward than a lot of us even thought,” Biden said.

The bloody siege left 49 people killed and more than 50 others injured. Mateen died in a shootout with police after law enforcement decided to end the standoff three hours into the attack.

The FBI has said it was also exploring whether anti-gay bigotry prompted the attack on the popular gay nightclub. Adding another dimension to the probe, at least two witnesses at Pulse said Mateen had previously visited the gay nightclub. They also said they had seen him on Jack’d, a dating app for gay men.

The bureau was also facing questions over whether it missed warning signs during a 10-month probe of the shooter that ended two years before the massacre.

During that investigation, the gunman was placed on a terrorism watch list. His wife, Salman, had apparently never come to the FBI’s attention.

The first U.S law enforcement official said the wife warned Mateen not to carry out the attack, apparently as he was leaving Saturday night for Orlando. The official said the couple surveilled the club between June 5 and June 9. FBI officials said Mateen bought the guns in early June.

It is not clear whether Salman has a lawyer. Her family, who live near San Francisco, declined to comment Tuesday.

The FBI investigated Mateen beginning in 2013, putting him under surveillance, recording his calls and using confidential informants to gauge whether he had been radicalized after the suspect talked at work about his connections with al-Qaida and dying as a martyr.

It was during this probe, which ended in 2014, that Mateen was placed on a terrorism watch list. After the FBI closed its preliminary investigation into Mateen in 2014, his name emerged months later in a separate probe, this one looking into a Florida man who became the first American suicide bomber in Syria. Investigators said they did not find any significant ties between the two men who attended the same Florida mosque.

The night of the shooting, Patience Carter, 20, said she heard the gunman explain his motivations during a 911 call in which he also pledged allegiance to the leader of ISIS.

At one point, while Carter was in the club bathroom with several other hostages, she said the gunman asked if there were any black people in the room. When one man said yes, the shooter said, “You know I don’t have a problem with black people,” Carter recalled during a news conference. “This is about my country,” Mateen said. “You guys suffered enough.”

These comments further add to the uncertainty regarding what may have inspired the gunman, who was born in the United States to parents from Afghanistan.

In his comments during the 911 call from the club, Mateen also referenced the Boston Marathon bombers, according to officials. Mateen’s claim that he carried out the shooting to “stop bombing” echoed a message Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev scrawled in a note before he was taken into custody by police. Tsarnaev, who was sentenced to death last year, wrote that the U.S. government was “killing our innocent civilians” and that as a Muslim, “I can’t stand to see such evil go unpunished.”

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, speaking near the scene of the slayings, said Tuesday that investigators were working diligently to sort out what happened in Orlando and why. He said he had been focused on talking to victims’ family members and did not offer any new details on the status of the investigation.

Scott also called for the federal government to share more information with its state counterparts in the wake of the shooting. While he did not specify how more sharing of information might have prevented the massacre, Scott said it was broadly important that federal officials share what they learn with local law enforcement – especially in immigration or refugee cases.

He referred to terrorist attacks in Paris in November that killed 130 people, saying that he told the federal government afterward, “Look, until you can tell me how you’re going to vet people, don’t send refugees into my state.”

Even though Mateen was born in New York, the shooting has fueled a resurgent debate on U.S. immigration policy. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump called Monday for barring immigrants from areas of the world with a history of terrorism as part of a proposed temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States.

Trump has rejected calls for more gun-control laws in the wake of the shooting. Obama, as he has before, again said Tuesday that the country could do more to reduce gun violence.

The political fallout from Orlando also reverberated on the world stage. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein called on U.S. authorities to adopt “robust gun control measures.”

“It is hard to find a rational justification that explains the ease with which people can buy firearms, including assault rifles, in spite of prior criminal backgrounds, drug use, histories of domestic violence and mental illness, or direct contact with extremists – both domestic and foreign,” the top U.N. human rights official said in a statement.

At one of the many memorials after the massacre, the names of the dead were read aloud at a gathering on the lawn of Orlando’s main performing arts venue. In Paris, the Eiffel Tower was bathed in rainbow colors at night. Hours later, French President François Hollande warned of a “very large scale” terrorist threat facing his nation and the West.

“France is not the only country concerned, as we have seen again in the United States in Orlando,” he said.

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