In the hours after the massacre at Pulse nightclub, FBI Special Agent Ricardo Enriquez transcribed a statement from Noor Salman, the widow of shooter Omar Mateen. As he finished, he asked her to add a passage in her own writing, saying he had treated her fairly, he testified Monday.
She went to the bathroom and he read over her handwriting: “I am sorry for what happened,” she wrote. “I wish I’d go back and tell his family and the police what he was going to do.”
The apology changed his view of Salman’s involvement, he said.
“I said, ‘You know Noor, I realize that you knew what was going on. You knew,’” Enriquez testified. “She said, ‘No I didn’t.’”
Enriquez said he asked her to read her written statement again.
“She began to cry, and said, ‘I knew,’” Enriquez said.
The jury in Salman’s trial, which had its third day of testimony Monday, will have only Enriquez’s words and the written statements to understand what happened between him and Salman inside a conference room at the FBI’s Fort Pierce office June 12, 2016.
No audio or video recording of their conversations were made. Enriquez said he didn’t record the sessions because the room in which Salman was interviewed was not equipped with monitoring devices and he did not have approval from superiors to record her.
During cross-examination, Salman’s defense attorney Charles Swift questioned how accurate the written statements were. He pointed to another room in the building that had what appeared to be a camera on its ceiling.
“That room was not offered to me,” Enriquez said.
Enriquez was the only witness to take the stand Monday, on the 11th day of Salman’s trial.
Enriquez said he was frustrated when he began interviewing Salman, because he did not have much information to go on. He saw some news coverage of the attack that morning — including at least part of a press conference — and knew 49 people had been killed in a mass shooting with ties to terrorism.
“She could have told me she took a trip to the moon and I would have put it down, because I didn’t have any information going into this,” he said.
Swift, however, asked how the FBI agent could know so little, when so much information had already come out in news reports: “Even though the rest of the world knew it was an attack on Pulse, a gay night club, you didn’t?” Swift asked.
No, Enriquez replied, “I couldn’t have given her that information.”
Swift noted that Enriquez’s knowledge of the case was important.
The more the agent knew, the more potential there was that he could infect her comments with his knowledge as he transcribed her words. “You testified that you couldn’t have contaminated her (Salman) because you didn’t know,” Swift said, to which Enriquez agreed.
In her first statement, Salman described her husband, Mateen, visiting websites run by the Islamic State group and watching violent videos. She said he made expensive purchases in the days fore the attack, buying a rifle, ammunition, toys for their son and a $7,000 ring for her.
But she didn’t say she knew anything about his plans.
Enriquez said he talked to Salman informally at first, without taking notes. When the time came for her to give a statement, she asked him to write it down because she was “too nervous,” he said. “I said, ‘OK, but you’re going to dictate to me,’” he recalled on the witness stand.
Under questioning by the prosecution, Enriquez said he stressed to Salman the importance of being honest, but never threatened her to make her talk.
“No I did not,” he said. “Absolutely not. I wouldn’t do that.”
Asked if the interview was confrontational, Enriquez indicated otherwise.
“You get more with honey than you do with vinegar,” he said.
Prosecutors say Salman gave three statements: the one in which she apologized “for what happened” and said she wished she could change it, a sentiment she did write herself, by hand; a second in which she said she suspected Mateen was planning an attack prior to June 12, 2016; and a third in which she said she knew what Mateen had been planning — and had been with him as he drove around Pulse days earlier.
During that visit, she said Mateen had remarked about “how upset are people going to be when it gets attacked.”
Salman also apologized for not initially being honest.
“I’m sorry for not being truthful in the start about what Omar was planning,” she wrote in one of the statements, again in her own handwriting, according to the FBI. “I didn’t want to believe it, he’s my son’s father, I didn’t want my inlaws to hate me or get in trouble.”
In his testimony, Enriquez said Salman told him that, as her husband left their Fort Pierce apartment the evening of June 11, 2016, to go Orlando, he grabbed her and said, “This is the day.” She also claimed to have repeatedly called Mateen, hoping to dissuade him, Enriquez said.
Testimony in the case against Omar Mateen’s widow began last week. She is accused of aiding and abetting her husband’s material support of a foreign terror organization and obstruction of justice. If convicted as charged, Salman faces up to life in prison.
© 2018 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)
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