The government has revealed only now that the Pulse nightclub shooter’s father was an FBI informant for 11 years before the attack, lawyers for his widow said Monday.
They said prosecutors also told them in an email Saturday that the government found evidence on the day of the attack that Omar Mateen’s father, Seddique Mateen, had been sending money to Afghanistan and Turkey, and that he had been accused of raising money to fund violence against the government of Pakistan.
Noor Salman’s lawyers said the new information – shared only after prosecutors rested their case – should result in a mistrial or an outright dismissal of the charges against her. The judge didn’t immediately rule on the defense’s motion, and the U.S. Attorney’s office declined to comment on the developments.
Salman, now 31 and the mother of a small child, is being tried in federal court in Orlando. She is accused of helping her husband plan his June 2016 attack at the gay nightclub in Orlando, where he killed 49 people.
In court Monday, an FBI agent testified that they considered trying to develop Omar Mateen as an informant, like his father, after investigating him in 2013 and finding he didn’t have ties to terrorism.
Salman’s lawyers said the government’s belated disclosure about Mateen’s father and his ties to the FBI has prevented them from exploring the possibilities that Seddique Mateen was more directly involved, and that Salman may have been framed to hide the government’s mistakes.
What is clear is that the federal government’s failure to disclose these details is keeping her from getting a fair trial, her attorneys said.
The government’s “violations in this case have placed Ms. Salman, the jury, and this Court in a dark wood where the search for truth has been thwarted,” they wrote, paraphrasing and citing 15th Century Italian poet Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy.
Her lawyers’ federal court motion filed Monday said U.S. Attorney Sara Sweeney sent them an email Saturday revealing some details of the FBI’s involvement with Seddique Mateen’s activities leading up to the Pulse attack.
“I have just received authorization to disclose the following information about Seddique Mateen,” her email said. “Seddique Mateen was a FBI confidential human source at various points in time between January 2005 and June 2016.”
This email was sent after jurors heard Shahla Mateen, Omar’s mother, deny during cross-examination that her husband had any relationship with the FBI.
The email also revealed other details the prosecution didn’t tell jurors, including the discovery in the hours after the shooting that “receipts for money transfers to Turkey and Afghanistan” made in the days and weeks before the shooting were found at Seddique Mateen’s home, and that in 2012, an anonymous tipster had accused Seddique Mateen of “seeking to raise $50,000 - $100,000 via a donation drive to contribute towards an attack against the government of Pakistan.”
Defense attorneys say the failure to share this information in advance of her trial violates Salman’s Fifth Amendment right to due process and Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial, because her defense would have investigated “whether Mateen’s father was involved in or had foreknowledge of the Pulse attack,” they wrote.
Prosecutors told the jury that Salman knew Omar Mateen was buying rounds of ammunition for his AR-15, helped him spend thousands of dollars before the attack and knew about his plan when he left their home in the hours before the shooting. They also say she lied in an attempt to mislead FBI agents and had knowledge of her husband’s sick fascination with violent jihadist videos and terrorism.
Defense attorneys describe Salman as a simple woman with a low IQ, who was abused by her husband. This latest evidence, they said, points instead to Mateen’s father as a potential accomplice.
“There are two viable theories of defense that could have been developed . First, Omar Mateen conspired with his father, rather than Noor Salman, to commit the acts,” the defense wrote.
“Alternatively, the FBI’s purported interviews with Ms. Salman were directed to evading the negligence they exercised with their own informant,” the motion says, and “to finding an additional culprit rather than their own informant.”
Former federal prosecutor David S. Weinstein agreed that if the defense had this information about Mateen’s father before trial, they could have planted doubt in the minds of jurors that Salman was ever involved. The defense began presenting its case on Monday, and at this point the judge will likely keep the trial going while he evaluates the motion, Weinstein said.
Ahmed Bedier, president of the civil rights advocacy group United Voices, has attended the trial in support of Salman. He said Salman’s family had suspected Seddique Mateen might have been working with the FBI, but they lacked evidence to support this.
“We always felt that there were huge problems with this case and suspicious motivations on behalf of the government to prosecute Noor on such little evidence. This new discovery is very revealing and raises a lot of questions about the FBI and the Department of Justice’s actions in investigating the mass shooting,” Bedier said.
A man who answered a Florida phone number for Seddique Mateen hung up after asking an AP reporter to identify himself.