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Wife of Florida nightclub gunman pleads not guilty to aiding attack

By Deborah M. Todd

OAKLAND, Calif. (Reuters) - The wife of the gunman in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to charges she assisted him ahead of the fatal shooting of 49 people at a gay nightclub in Florida and later misleading authorities.

Noor Salman, 30, aided and abetted husband Omar Mateen in his attempt to provide material support to a terrorist organization, federal prosecutors said. They also accuse her of obstructing justice by lying to authorities investigating the June 2016 massacre.

Salman appeared in federal court in Oakland, California, in an orange jail uniform and remained silent. An attorney entered the not guilty pleas on her behalf.

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Salman, the first person charged by U.S. authorities in connection with the attack, faces up to life in prison if convicted. Her husband was killed in a shootout with police after taking hostages during a three-hour standoff at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

Salman was not present during the shooting, which also left dozens wounded and intensified fears about attacks by Americans inspired by Islamic State, the militant organization.

A grand jury indictment unsealed on Tuesday accused her of criminal activity beginning as early as April, several months before the massacre, but did not give details on how she helped Mateen.

Prosecutors did not disclose more information on Wednesday. Hearings will be held later regarding her legal representation, detention and expected transfer to Florida. Salman was arrested on Monday in California, where she was living with her mother in the San Francisco area.

Mateen, 29, pledged allegiance to the leader of Islamic State during the shooting. He had been investigated twice by the FBI for possible connections with militant Islamist groups.

Mateen, who lived in Fort Pierce, Florida, with Salman and their young son, was self-radicalized and acted alone without assistance or orders from abroad, according to U.S. authorities.

Salman, a U.S. citizen and the daughter of parents who emigrated from the West Bank in 1985, was physically abused by Mateen, her uncle, Al Salman, told reporters on Tuesday. The uncle said she was innocent and had no idea of her husband's plans.

(Writing by Letitia Stein; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jeffrey Benkoe)