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U.S. judge approves release of Florida nightclub shooter's widow

By Lisa Fernandez
| OAKLAND, Calif.

OAKLAND, Calif. A judge cleared the way on Wednesday for the widow of the gunman who killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, to be released from jail and also appeared to throw doubt on the strength of the government’s case against her.

Noor Salman, 30, was arrested in California in January on federal charges she knew before the June 2016 shootings that her husband, Omar Mateen, was planning the attack and concocted a cover story for him.

Prosecutors want Salman to remain jailed before her trial in Florida. But U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu said in an Oakland courtroom that the government had not shown Salman was a danger to the community or a serious flight risk.

“I find the weight of the government evidence as debatable,” Ryu added.

Commenting on the prosecutor’s charges against Salman, the judge said: “All the government assertions are hotly debated.”

Salman is charged with obstructing justice and aiding Mateen in his attempt to provide material support to a terrorist organization.

Mateen was killed in a shootout with police after he took hostages during a three-hour standoff at the Pulse nightclub and carried out the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

One of Salman’s lawyers, Linda Moreno, said the approved release “doesn’t usually happen in a so-called terrorism case.”

Ryu gave prosecutors in Florida 48 hours to challenge her ruling, meaning Salman could not walk free from jail until Friday at the earliest.

William Daniels, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Middle District of Florida, said by telephone that prosecutors would file a motion by Friday with a judge in Orlando challenging Salman’s release.

Ryu likened Salman’s release to house arrest, ordering her to live with her uncle in Rodeo, California, and saying she could leave home only for court and medical appointments. Her conditional release will be secured with a $500,000 bond.

Salman’s 4-year-old son with Mateen, who is living with her mother, will be allowed to visit.

Salman, dressed in a red jail uniform, bit her nails during the hearing and looked at the dozen relatives who came in support.

Outside the courtroom, her uncle, Abdallah “Al” Salman, with whom she will live, again declared his niece innocent.

“She does not read between the lines,” he said, reiterating that she has learning disabilities and did not have the capacity to aid in the massacre.

(Reporting by Lisa Fernandez; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Peter Cooney and Grant McCool)