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As Wife Of Pulse Nightclub Shooter Faces Federal Charges, A Look At Their Relationship


In a courtroom in Florida, Noor Salman is on trial for obstruction of justice and supporting a terrorist organization. She is the wife of the man who on June 12, 2016, walked into Pulse nightclub in Orlando and killed 49 people. Salman faces life in prison if convicted. And the writer Rachel Louise Snyder has been following her trial for The New Yorker. She has talked to Salman's family and defense team. And a warning to our listeners - our conversation includes graphic descriptions of domestic abuse. I began by asking Snyder about the link between domestic violence and mass shootings.

RACHEL LOUISE SNYDER: The gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety in fact did a study of mass shootings in America, which is four or more people, between 2008 and 2012 and found that more than half of them had been perpetrated by men who had had domestic violence in their background. We're talking...

CHANG: Right.

SNYDER: ...About a very small subset. But in the case of someone like Omar Mateen or Devin Patrick Kelley from Sutherland Springs, Texas - you know, the church shooting not too long ago - they were very extreme cases of violence.

CHANG: What was the abuse that Noor Salman allegedly suffered at the hands of Omar Mateen?

SNYDER: Well, more specifics will come out in the trial when the defense presents their case. But what I've been told, Noor Salman was strangled. She was beaten while pregnant, had forced sex, otherwise known as rape of course. And all of her daily activities were controlled. She didn't drive a car until she was 30. She was given $20 a week in allowance money from him. She was isolated from her family. Her family all lived in California, and once they married, she moved to Florida and didn't see them again until after the Pulse shooting.

CHANG: How much do you think the violence in her marriage will play into the defense's theory as to why she shouldn't take as much responsibility for not alerting authorities?

SNYDER: Certainly it will be a big part of it, and it should be a big part of it. I don't have a sense of whether or not that level of detail is going to be included in the defense. I think what's more relevant to them is, look; here's a guy who was cleared by the FBI in 2013 with all of the, you know, training that they have and the technology. How is this uneducated, abused, sort of powerless person going to be able to see and put these dots together?

CHANG: But, I mean, at the end of the day, if Salman knew that her husband was a threat and still didn't alert anyone, why shouldn't she bear some responsibility under the law for the fact that she could have contributed to the deaths of 49 people?

SNYDER: Well, that's certainly what the prosecution is trying to prove, and that's certainly what the indictments are about. In fact, the prosecution in court documents wrote that a, quote, "culpable aider and abettor need not perform the substantive offense, need not fully know of its details and need not even be present," end quote. So that is I think in some ways the most damning statement for the defense in terms of how they're going to present her.

But I think what they would say is she certainly knew he was a threat, but she believed that the threat was toward her. And when the shooting first happened and her family in California first heard about it - because of course they heard about it three hours earlier than many of us on the East Coast - they believed that she was probably his first victim.

CHANG: Rachel Louise Snyder is covering the trial of Noor Salman for The New Yorker. Her forthcoming book about the trial and domestic violence is called "No Visible Bruises." Thank you very much for coming in today.

SNYDER: Thank you for having me.