On Friday, a jury in St. Petersburg, Florida acquitted the widow of the terrorist who massacred 49 people at a gay night club in Orlando in 2016. The widow had been charged with obstructing the FBI investigation and providing material support to a terrorist organization, but the defense succeeded in raising enough questions about her knowledge of her husband’s radicalism and his murderous plans to acquit her of all charges. Here’s what you need to know:
Prosecutors argued the widow helped her husband prepare for a terrorist attack.
Prosecutors maintained that the widow, 31, born to Palestinian immigrant parents in California, had helped her husband, born to Afghan immigrants in New York, prepare for his shooting spree by helping him scout out his original target, Disney Springs, where the two visited prior to the Pulse attack and where security footage shows the terrorist walking near the House of Blues just hours before opening fire on the night club. Prosecutors said that the widow was aware that her husband was buying ammunition for his AR-15, was aware of his radicalized views and his fascination with Islamic State propaganda. They also claimed that she advised her husband to lie to his mother about his whereabouts on the night of the attack.
She made multiple claims to the FBI that proved to be false.
Hours after her husband murdered 49 people before being shot dead by police, the widow told the FBI that her husband “over the last two years” had “talked to me about jihad.” In the statement, she claimed that he didn’t use the internet at home, had deactivated his Facebook page back in 2013, only owned one gun and wasn’t radicalized. The FBI found that all four of the claims were false: He did use the internet at home, where he frequently engaged with radical Islamist propaganda, had posted on his Facebook page a month earlier, and owned three guns rather than one.
The defense argued that her testimony had been “coerced” by the FBI and, as AP reports, she only signed the statement “because she was tired after extensive questioning and feared losing her young son.”
The defense said she was easily manipulated.
“Defense attorneys described [the widow] as an easily manipulated woman with a low IQ,” AP reports. Her attorneys described her as having been abused by her husband and the victim of not only his manipulation but his infidelity with other women. Because of her vulnerability to manipulation, he was able to successfully hide his radicalism from her.
The defense argued that she couldn’t have helped him plan for the attack because his plans changed last minute.
As evidence that she did not know about the attack, the defense pointed to the terrorist’s decision to suddenly change venues from Disney Springs to Pulse. Calling it a “random, senseless killing by a monster,” defense attorney Charles Swift said, “The importance to this case is that if he didn’t know, she couldn’t know.”
Her attorneys also pointed to her actions leading up to and during the attack, including calling a friend and uncle in California to say she was coming to visit along with her husband, chatting with her in-laws, eating at Applebee’s and texting her husband.
“You know you work tomorrow,” she wrote after he had opened fire on the club, to which he replied, “You know what happened?” “What happened?” she replied. He responded with his final text to her: “I love you babe.”
Her husband’s plans to target Disney changed when he saw armed security.
Prosecutors say her husband’s original plan to target Disney Springs involved hiding a gun in a stroller and opening fire at the high-traffic Disney shopping complex, but he decided to move to a softer target after seeing armed security at the venue. AP reports:
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Sweeney showed surveillance video of the Disney Springs complex that captured [the terrorist] walking near the House of Blues club in the hours before the Pulse attack. In it, he looks behind him at police officers standing nearby before deciding to leave.
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