- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Authorities declined Wednesday to address reports that prosecutors are considering charges against the wife of the gunman who killed 49 people inside a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, as officials probe the degree to which she may have been aware of her husband’s plans.

Omar Mateen, who was killed in a shootout with police, remains the main suspect behind Sunday’s attack, but investigators said they were working to determine whether he had any assistance in planning the massacre and were reconstructing his actions in the hours, days and months leading up to the assault.

“Law enforcement is talking to everyone associated with the shooter,” said Lee Bentley, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida. “That includes his family, his friends, people with businesses. It includes anyone within the ambit of what the shooter was doing in the months leading up to the crime.”

Charging Noor Salman in connection with Mateen’s deadly shooting spree inside Pulse nightclub would likely require prosecutors’ ability to show that she knew about his plans and that she acted with intent to aid his actions, according to a former Justice Department prosecutor.

“If they are aware of what’s going to occur and knowingly do something to aid or assist, even something very minimal, that would be enough for an aiding-and-abetting charge,” said J. Patrick Rowan, former assistant attorney general for national security. “Mere knowledge isn’t enough, but once you have that knowledge and you have a close relationship to that person, the investigators are very likely to find something that was done that furthered his plan.”

Mateen killed 49 people and injured 53 others early Sunday after storming Pulse, an LGBT club that several patrons said he had been known to frequent. The gunman was killed in a shootout with police after a hourslong standoff during which the gunman pledged allegiance to the Islamic State terrorist group, claimed to have had accomplices and threatened to detonate explosive devices.

Multiple media outlets have reported that Ms. Salman recently went with Mateen to the nightclub and that she accompanied him as he went to a gun store this month to buy ammunition.

Prosecutors often avoid discussing grand jury proceedings, and Mr. Bentley declined Wednesday to discuss whether charges would be brought against Ms. Salman, who has not spoken out publicly since the shooting.

“I am not going to speculate as to any charges that might be brought or indeed as to whether any charges might be brought in this case,” he said. “It is premature to do so.”

But legal observers viewed criminal charges as a foregone conclusion.

“She’s going to be charged. A conviction is another matter,” Tom Fuentes, a former assistant director of the FBI, told CNN.

In another recent terrorism attack — carried out in San Bernardino, California — prosecutors ultimately did bring charges against a friend of one of the two people involved in the mass shooting.

Enrique Marquez, a friend of Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, is accused of acting as a straw purchaser of the firearms that were used in the massacre. He was charged with the unlawful purchase of two assault rifles and of conspiring years earlier with Farook to carry out a separate terrorist attack that never materialized.

Mr. Rowan said proving an aiding-and-abetting charge is often made easier when the purchase of a firearm is involved because of the purchase records.

“When it’s a lesser activity, it is harder to prove what actually happened,” he said. “It’s not recorded in the same way a gun purchase is clearly documented through records.”

Authorities said Pulse remains an active crime scene while investigators gather and process a vast amount of evidence.

A variety of reports have emerged from people claiming to have seen Mateen at the club or interacting with him on gay dating apps. Officials on Wednesday encouraged anyone who has information about his actions to contact the FBI.

“We need your help in developing the most complete picture of what he did and why he did it,” said Ron Hopper, FBI special agent in charge. “No piece of information is too small.”

Agent Hopper said the FBI issued an intelligence bulletin to gay nightclubs in the Orlando area to heighten their awareness, but he emphasized that there is no known credible or specific threat to the clubs.

The Department of Homeland Security issued a National Terrorism Advisory System bulletin Wednesday noting the continued concern that violent extremists could be inspired to conduct attacks inside the United States.

“As we saw in the attacks in San Bernardino, Paris, Brussels, and, most recently, Orlando, terrorists will consider a diverse and wide selection of targets for attacks,” the bulletin states. “In the current environment, DHS is also concerned about threats and violence directed at particular communities and individuals across the country, based on perceived religion, ethnicity, nationality or sexual orientation.”

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