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US judge frees wife of Orlando nightclub gunman

A California judge has ruled that the widow of Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people at an Orlando nightclub in June, will be released from jail before her trial. Noor Salman is charged with abetting her husband's attack.

A San Francisco federal judge on Wednesday said it was "debatable" there is evidence showing that Noor Salman abetted her late husband in carrying out an attack on an Orlando nightclub last year in which he killed 49 people and wounded 53.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu ordered that Salman be released from jail pending trial. She stands accused of aiding her husband, Omar Mateen, and lying to investigators. Salman has pleaded not guilty. A trial date has not yet been scheduled.

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Orlando massacre investigation

The prosecution argued against releasing Salman, maintaining that she is a risk to the public. She will remain incarcerated for two more days so federal prosecutors can appeal the decision.

Judge: No evidence of links to terror groups

While Mateen pledged allegiance to several organizations during the attack at Pulse nightclub, including the so-called "Islamic State" jihadist group, Ryu said there was no evidence indicating that Salman held such extremist views. The judge added that the defendant was not a flight risk and would wear an electronic ankle monitor while effectively remaining under house arrest at her uncle's home in northern California.

After Mateen was fatally shot by police during the Orlando attack, Salman moved from Orlando into her mother's San Francisco home. She was arrested in January.

The 31-year-old widow's attorneys, Linda Moreno, said it is rare that suspects facing terror charges be granted bail, adding that it showed the weakness of the prosecution's case.   "It's extraordinarily rare and a statement of the government's case," Moreno said.

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Obstruction of justice?

Federal prosecutor Sara Sweeney told the court that Salman initially said during questioning that she didn't know anything about the attack but later told investigators that Mateen had abused steroids, was "pumped up" on the night of the attack and said "this is the one day" as he left his home.

Sweeney added that in the days before the attack, Salman and Mateen ran up $25,000 in credit card debt and spent around $5,000 in cash. Salman was also the made the death beneficiary of Mateen's bank account, according federal prosecutors.

The defense hit back at the accusations, saying that investigators probed Salman for 18 hours immediately after the attack and without a lawyer present.

dm/bw (AP)

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