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Jury selection begins in trial of Pulse shooter's widow

Jury selection began Thursday in the federal trial of Noor Salman, the widow of the man who shot and killed 49 people in an Orlando, Fla., nightclub in 2016.

Noor Salman, 31, is charged with aiding and abetting her husband, Omar Mateen, in 2016 attack

The trial of Noor Salman, left, pictured with her husband Omar Mateen, who was killed by police after the Pulse nightclub attack, could last five weeks or more once the jurors are chosen. (Facebook)

Jury selection began Thursday in the federal trial of Noor Salman, the widow of the man who shot and killed 49 people in an Orlando, Fla., nightclub in one of the deadliest U.S. mass shootings.

U.S. District Judge Paul Byron questioned jurors one by one about their knowledge of the Pulse nightclub shooting and whether they knew anyone connected to the attack or the case, in what will likely be a lengthy jury selection.

It took a half hour Thursday morning to question the first potential juror; each person called had previously filled out a lengthy questionnaire about their backgrounds, opinions and knowledge of the case.

The judge said the trial could last five weeks or more once the 12 jurors are chosen.

Salman, who is 31, is charged with aiding and abetting husband Omar Mateen in planning the attack. She's also been charged with obstruction of justice and faces life in prison if convicted.

On Thursday morning prior to the proceedings, some protesters gathered outside the Orlando courthouse held posters encouraging a guilty verdict and calling for the death penalty. One man's sign read, "FRY HER TILL SHE HAS NO PULSE." Security at the federal courthouse was tight. Some Pulse victims' families were in attendance.

At the time of the June 16, 2016, massacre, it was the worst mass shooting in the United States. Mateen, 29, who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, died in an exchange of gunfire with police in the hours after the shooting at the club.

Mateen opened fire shortly after the last call for drinks on the club's popular Latin night. He gunned down patrons on the dance floor and sprayed bullets at others hiding in bathroom stalls.

Prosecutors say Salman lied to authorities about her knowledge of her husband's plans. She was arrested in California in 2017, where she was staying with family, and has been in jail since.

'A severely abused woman'

From various court documents, it is expected that the defence will say Salman was abused and afraid of her husband. Her attorneys also claim she wasn't given proper Miranda warnings by authorities before she made statements.

On Wednesday, the judge unsealed some documents in the case that were submitted by the defence. A nurse and a psychologist who evaluated Salman said she was physically abused by her husband and was afraid to question him about the attack.

"Noor Salman is a severely abused woman who was in realistic fear for her life from her abusive husband," wrote Jacquelyn Campbell, a nurse who will testify for the defence about domestic violence and PTSD. "Her behaviour was entirely consistent with severely abused women who are completely controlled by a highly abusive male partner." 

With files from Reuters