Orlando mass murderer Omar Mateen and his wife, Noor, were raised in middle-class American homes by Middle Eastern parents who used social media to share their passionate opinions and support for controversial groups in their homelands, including the pro-Palestinian group Hamas and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Both families emigrated to the United States before Omar and Noor were born. Although they sent them to public schools and allowed them to wear western clothes, the parents embraced social media as a means to convey their loyalty to their homelands.
Noor’s mother, Ekbal Salman, used Facebook to pledge her support to Palestinian fighters. Immigration records show she came to the United States in the early 1980s.
“How many snipers from Palestine deserve a bow from our heads as respect to them?” the mother wrote in a post on Oct. 6, 2013. A photo included with the post praises one fighter who “killed 11 Zionists.”
Recently, she has posted her support for Jamal Al-Taweel, an imprisoned Hamas official who — along with his wife and daughter — repeatedly have been detained and jailed by Israeli authorities. Hamas, branded a terrorist organization by the United States, is the ruling party in the Gaza Strip.
“My brother and friend, Jamal, rest assured that you are backed by a sister who prays for you night and day, asking God to release you from your imprisonment,” the mother wrote in a post on April 20, several days after an Israeli military court sentenced him to four years in prison for belonging to an illegal party that incites against Israel.
Omar Mateen’s father, Seddique Mateen of Port St. Lucie, hosted his own television show between 2011 and 2015 during his run for Afghan president. In dozens of videos broadcast on YouTube, the father’s main complaint involved the Durand Line, a demarcation established by the British in 1893 that separates Afghanistan and Pakistan. The homeland of the Pashtun ethnic group straddles the border.
Although it is not known if the Mateens are Pashtuns, the Afghan Taliban is mostly made up of Pashtuns. In one video, the elder Mateen expresses his gratitude to the Taliban and condemns Pakistan’s intelligence agency, ISI, and the United States for supporting it, according to a Washington Post report.
“Our brothers in Waziristan, our warrior brothers in (the) Taliban movement and national Afghan Taliban are rising up,” he said. “Inshallah (God willing), the Durand Line issue will be solved soon.”
Another YouTube video shows the elder Mateen protesting outside NATO headquarters in Belgium, where he blames ISI for terrorism in the region and the oppression of women and children.
Wife’s family mostly quiet
Little else is known about Noor and her family. Shortly after the shooting she closed her social media accounts. Family members have not responded to requests for comment. However, her mother has posted on Facebook since the shooting — all in Arabic.
Several days after the New York Post pasted her daughter’s face on its cover with the headline “She could have saved them all,” Ekbal Salman posted a meme with a photo and a comment from a Soviet author, which allowed her to emphasize the damage words can inflict.
Unlike Mateen’s father, who spent hours conducting interviews in the days after the June 12 shooting, the wife’s family has remained mostly quiet. After ABC News reported that Noor attended special education courses in middle school, the family issued a statement saying Noor is “completely innocent and unaware of the attacks” and that she doesn’t understand “cause and effect.”
Officials are investigating how much — or little — she knew about her husband’s plans and whether she could have stopped him. She willingly spoke to the FBI after the shooting and told investigators that she accompanied Mateen to buy ammunition and she drove with him to the Pulse nightclub before the massacre.
Daughters lived sheltered life
One of four daughters born to Palestinian immigrants, Noor Salman grew up in Rodeo, Calif., a hilly community about 25 miles northeast of San Francisco. A neighbor who lived across the street from the family’s home for 15 years told The Associated Press that Noor was “very nice … not the smartest, but she was beautiful.”
Noor and her three sisters lived a sheltered life and were not allowed to drive, the neighbor said.
“You know, some kids after high school, they open up the box and the world is theirs,” the neighbor told AP. “She was inside the box, just pack it up and get married.”
She graduated from high school in 2004. Her parents arranged her first marriage and the couple lived in Chicago. By 2009 the marriage was over. A neighbor of who lived across the street from Noor’s childhood home said they had cultural differences.
Noor met Mateen online, a neighbor at the couple’s Fort Pierce apartment told the AP. The couple married on Sept. 28, 2011, the second marriage for them both. An imam from a mosque near her family’s home in California performed the ceremony. They moved to South Florida, where Mateen’s family lived. A year later they had a son, their only child.
Noor’s mother complained to a neighbor that Mateen would not allow her daughter to visit family in California. She visited once after she saved enough money when her father was sick. He died in September 2012, the neighbor said.
Federal officials told CNN that Mateen bought three tickets to fly in July from Palm Beach International Airport to San Francisco.
Mateen served on condo board
The couple’s neighbors in Fort Pierce, where the couple lived in a townhome with their son, rarely saw or heard them. Mateen briefly sat on the condo board. She attended services at the mosque but mostly kept to herself.
Mohammed Malik, who used to attend the same mosque as the couple, last saw Noor in January, when the couple attended a dinner at the home of Malik’s brother-in-law.
Malik never spoke to her, and neither did his wife.
He was surprised to hear reports that she had developmental delays, especially because he said he had read other reports out of California where sources said she was smart.
He couldn’t tell either way by that encounter, Malik said.
“She was more or less chasing her son around the whole time,” he said. “He was a cute, adorable little boy. He wasn’t mischievous, there were a few other kids there that were, but she still just stayed with him.”
News reports have the family visiting Disney World in Orlando in April and there is speculation that Mateen may have used the trip to scout out targets.
After the shooting, Noor willingly spoke with investigators.
She said her husband was angry and carried a bag with guns when he left his home in Fort Pierce for the two-hour drive to Orlando. She said she grabbed him by the arm and pleaded with him to not leave, she told investigators in an interview. She didn’t know he was planning the attack, she said.
About 4 a.m., two hours after he started his rampage that would kill 49, making him the most lethal lone gunman in modern U.S. history, Mateen texted his wife, asking if she had seen the news, a law enforcement official briefed on the investigation told CNN.
At one point, she responded with a text saying that she loved him. Salman also tried calling her husband several times during the standoff, a second law enforcement official told CNN.
Transcripts of those calls have not been made public.
Noor, who remains free, has retained an attorney to represent her, law enforcement officials said. A grand jury is reviewing law enforcement’s findings, CNN has reported.
A federal law enforcement official told the Los Angeles Times that the Justice Department is in no rush to file charges because no evidence has emerged to suggest the gunman had accomplices, and there is no imminent threat of another attack.
Staff writer Daphne Duret and The Associated Press contributed to this story.