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Pulse Nightclub Gunman's Father Was FBI Informant, According To Shooter's Widow's Lawyers

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Today a judge denied a motion by Noor Salman's defense attorneys to dismiss the charges against her - obstruction of justice and supporting a terrorist organization. Salman is the widow of Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen. The defense was asking for a mistrial because of new information that has come out about Mateen's father. Here to tell us about that and give us an update on the trial is Catherine Welch from member station WMFE in Orlando. And Catherine, what was this new information that just came out about Mateen's father?

CATHERINE WELCH, BYLINE: So the new information is that he was a confidential FBI informant for more than 10 years before the Pulse shooting in 2016. Then after the shooting, the FBI investigated the father when they found receipts for a money transfer to Afghanistan and Turkey. Now, in testimony today, the agent who worked with the father detailed how he investigated the shooter, Omar Mateen, back in 2013 after Mateen made comments about being in touch with terrorist groups. And when Omar Mateen was cleared, the agent testified that he considered recruiting him as an FBI informant.

SHAPIRO: And this is not the first time the defense team has learned something new during this trial, right?

WELCH: No, it is not. So the government's case relies heavily on three statements that Noor Salman made to the FBI that - they're only written. There are no recordings of her. And in one of those statements, she claims she was with her husband as they cased the Pulse nightclub. Well, then last week, an FBI agent testified that cellphone records never put the couple at the nightclub. And the FBI knew this days after the shooting, and yet part of the government's argument to revoke Noor Salman's bail was the statement that she helped scout Pulse. And the defense never knew that this data even existed. They had gone and paid a specialist extra to try to figure that out.

SHAPIRO: So now the judge has denied the defense motion to dismiss. What happens next?

WELCH: Well, the judge denied the motion saying the defense was not harmed because the gunman's father was never called by the prosecution as a witness. So the father could be called by the defense as a witness. And before releasing the jury today, the judge told the jury that they could expect closing arguments as early as Wednesday.

SHAPIRO: So this will move pretty quickly.

WELCH: That is the expectation.

SHAPIRO: I understand there was also a bomb scare outside of the courthouse today. What can you tell us about that?

WELCH: Yeah, not enough drama for the day. So outside the courthouse late in the afternoon, a suspicious letter was found on the steps of the courthouse. Everyone was evacuated away from - moved away from the building, including the media gaggle that had been camped outside. Everyone was clear. Surrounding streets were closed. The bomb squad comes in - all clear, nothing hazardous. We're back to business as usual outside the courthouse.

SHAPIRO: You know, with this trial and this bomb scare in a city where there was a mass shooting just a few hours away from Parkland - where there was, of course, the school shooting - what does it feel like in Orlando at this moment?

WELCH: You know, Orlando is a little on edge. And Orlando seems to be a little divided. Some people - like, the mayor says he's not going to even follow this trial, whereas friends and families of survivors and victims - the Pulse nightclub owner has been to a few of these hearings. It seems that people are either engaged in this hearing, or they just can't. And they're just not...

SHAPIRO: Well, we...

WELCH: ...Engaging.

SHAPIRO: ...Appreciate your covering it for us, and we will continue to check in with you as it concludes. Catherine Welch is news director from member station WMFE in Orlando. Thanks so much, Catherine.

WELCH: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOUR TET SONG, "GLUE OF THE WORLD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.