Widow of Orlando nightclub gunman is acquitted in the attack

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — The widow of the gunman who slaughtered 49 people at a gay Orlando nightclub was acquitted today of helping to plot the attack and lying to the FBI afterward – a rare and stinging defeat for the U.S. government in a terrorism case.

Noor Salman, 31, sobbed upon hearing the jury's verdict of not guilty of obstruction and providing material support to a terrorist organization, charges that could have brought life in prison. Her family gasped each time the words "not guilty" were pronounced.

On the other side of the courtroom, the families of the victims of the June 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting sat stone-faced and silent.

Within hours of the verdict, Salman was released from jail and got into a waiting car without answering questions.

"Noor is so grateful. Her belief in the process was shown. She wants to get back to her son," defense attorney Linda Moreno said. Family spokeswoman Susan Clary said Salman's family "always thought that Noor was the first victim" of her husband, Omar Mateen.

Relying heavily on an alleged confession from Salman, federal prosecutors had charged she and Mateen had scouted out potential targets together – including Disney World's shopping and entertainment complex – and she knew he was buying ammunition for his AR-15 assault-style rifle for a jihadi attack.

The government contended also she knew Mateen had a sick fascination with violent jihadi videos and an affinity for Islamic State group websites, and that she gave him a "green light to commit terrorism."

But the defense portrayed her as an easily manipulated woman with a low IQ and argued she signed a false confession because she was tired after extensive questioning and feared losing her young son.

After the verdict, prosecutors said they were disappointed and took no questions.

"Noor Salman should never have been on trial," said Ahmed Bedier, a civil-rights advocate and the president of United Voices of America. "Let this verdict serve as a message to law enforcement and prosecutors who railroad and persecute innocent people on little evidence, the people of this great nation will not allow it."

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