Thursday Reads: What Really Happened to Ibragim Todashev?

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Good Morning!!

We’re heading into a heat wave here in the Boston area. It’s supposed to be hot and humid for the next few days with temps in the high 80s or low 90s. It will be a shock to my system, since it has been rather chilly here recently.

I’m going to focus on the ongoing Boston bombing story again, but you can treat this as a regular morning reads post/open thread. Don’t feel you have to comment on this topic. I haven’t paid much attention to other news for a few days, so I hope you’ll update me on the latest news in the comment thread!

A week ago, I wrote a post about the death of Ibragim Todashev, who was shot and killed in an apartment in Orlando, FL by an FBI agent from Boston in the early hours of Wednesday May 22. Todashev was being questioned by representatives of the FBI, the Massachusetts State Police, and “other law enforcement personnel” about his relationship with deceased Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev and possible connections to an unsolved 2011 triple murder in Waltham, Massachusetts. Todashev had reportedly been questioned for hours on Tuesday and was shot shortly after midnight. The FBI had been following him for about a month, calling him daily and questioning him on several different occasions.

At the time I wrote that post, there was a great deal of confusion about the circumstances of the shooting and that confusion has only increased during the past week. At first, anonymous law enforcement sources claimed Todashev had been killed after he attacked the agent with a knife. By he next day sources were walking back that claim, some saying Todashev had something in his hand but it wasn’t a knife, others suggesting it was a pipe or something similar.

I’ve been following this story closely, and I’ve never seen anything like it. Presumably, the events in question were fairly straightforward. A man was shot dead with at least four–perhaps more–law enforcement officers present. How hard would it be to figure out if the dead man had a knife in his hand or not? Something was obviously not right.

FBI gun

During the past week, the reported details of the Todashev shooting have continued to change. On May 25, the Boston Globe offered a new version of events, again based on anonymous sources.

An FBI agent from the bureau’s Boston office fired the shot, or shots, that killed a friend of Boston ­Marathon bombing suspect ­Tamerlan Tsarnaev early Wednesday morning during an interview about an unsolved Waltham homicide, say officials briefed on the investigation.

Ibragim Todashev, a 27-year-old mixed martial arts fighter formerly from Allston and Cambridge, was shot in the kitchen of his apartment after overturning a table and attacking the agent with a blade, the officials said. The Globe has ­reported that the shooting came after Todashev had implicated himself in a grisly 2011 triple homicide in Waltham. ­Tamerlan Tsarnaev was friendly with one of the Waltham victims, and authorities suspect he may also have taken part in the slayings.

Two law enforcement officials said that the Boston FBI agent felt he was in grave danger when Todashev attacked him and that he fired in self-defense.

“This was a tough guy; he was a dangerous individual,” one law enforcement official said, speaking of Todashev. The official asked not to be named because the official was not ­authorized to discuss the case.

Okay, but with at least four trained law enforcement officers present, why was it necessary to kill a potentially valuable witness? Is it really credible that they couldn’t control one not very large (about 5’8″) man?

Yesterday morning there was another version. In this one, first reported by Fox Boston, Todashev not only knocked over a table, but also slammed the FBI agent’s head into a wall and attacked him with a sword. Yes, a sword. As in previous stories, the claim was that Todashev had been about to sign a confession about his involvement in the Waltham murders when things got out of control.

During the interview, investigators took notes and everything appeared to be going well. Eventually, Todashev was asked to write down, in his own handwriting and in his own words, what he had been telling authorities about his role in the murders when in the words of one source – all hell broke loose.

Todashev allegedly began writing, but then flipped a table over, knocking the Boston FBI agent into the wall hitting his head.

FOX 25’s Bob Ward was told the agent looked up to see Todashev waving in his direction what was described as a Banzai ceremonial sword.

Fearing for his life, the FBI agent drew his weapon and fatally shot Todashev. The entire incident taking only seconds.

During the course of the day, the story continued to change as more anonymous “sources” weighed in. WESH Orlando’s “sources” told a slight different tale than Fox Boston’s.

Sources said Todashev might have been lunging toward a sword, but he was not in possession of it.

Law enforcement officials said Todashev was in the process of confessing to a 2011 triple murder in Waltham, Mass., and was working on writing out the details of the crime when he snapped and turned violent.

Officials said Todashev pushed a table and possibly threw a chair.

Sources said a sword was inside the apartment, but the weapon was moved to the corner of the room before questioning began. Law enforcement said when Todashev lunged, the FBI agent believed he could have possibly been going for his gun or the sword in the room, and that’s when the agent opened fire.

Because of course the best law enforcement technique is to move any sharp objects to the corner of the room before questioning a suspect? WTF?!

FBI-2

Finally, last night several news outlets–among them The Washington Post–reported that Todashev had been unarmed when he was shot.

One law enforcement official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation, said Wednesday that Todashev lunged at the agent and overturned a table. But the official said Todashev did not have a gun or a knife. A second official also said Todashev was unarmed.

An official said that according to one account of the shooting, the other law enforcement officials had just stepped out of the room, leaving the FBI agent alone with Todashev, when the confrontation occurred.

The shooting followed hours of questioning by the law enforcement officials that had begun the night before.

And exactly why did the other officers “step out of the room?” The source doesn’t say.

This story is becoming just plain ridiculous, and as Emptywheel wrote yesterday, it makes the FBI look just plain stupid. Last night on twitter, someone compared it to the old “Get Smart” recurring bit, “Would you believe…”

But as ridiculous as this story seems, we need to understand that something like this could happen to any one of us. A man was killed in an apartment with multiple law enforcement officers present, and after more than a week, we still don’t know for sure what happened.

At 7PM yesterday, the Florida chapter of the Council on Islamic-American Relations (CAIR) held a press conference with Todashev’s wife, her mother, and a close friend of Todashev’s in attendance and called for the Department of Justice to initiate a civil rights investigation of the shooting.

[T]he Tampa director of that group said not only was 27-year-old Ibragim Todashev unarmed when he was shot by the agent May 22, he was hit seven times, including once in the head….the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Florida chapter on Wednesday cited unnamed sources within the FBI as saying Todashev was not armed at the time of the shooting.

“We did confirm today with sources within the FBI that he was unarmed,” CAIR-Tampa Executive Director Hassan Shibly told the Orlando Sentinel on Wednesday afternoon. Later, Shibly told reporters that CAIR has an “intermediary” who said the FBI told him Todashev was unarmed. Shibly did not identify the intermediary.

At a news conference Wednesday evening, Shibly showed what he said were photos of Todashev’s body after the shooting. The photos were taken at an Orlando funeral home after the Orange-Osceola County Medical Examiner’s office released the body to Todashev’s next of kin, he said.

The photographer was Khusen Taramov — a friend of Todashev’s who lives in Kissimmee — and photos show at least a dozen wounds, although some may have been exit wounds, Shibly said.

In addition, Todashev’s widow Reniya Manukyan claimed that she has evidence to show that her husband could not have committed the murders in Waltham in September 2011.

Todashev’s widow said Wednesday that she has records proving her husband was with her in Atlanta on Sept. 11, 2011, so he could not have been in Massachusetts on the day of the triple killing. Manukyan was married to Todashev for about three years, she said.

In another interaction on Twitter last night Boston Globe reporter Wesley Lowery told me he wasn’t ready to accept the latest version of events until he can independently confirm it from official sources. His reporting on the Boston bombing generally and the Todashev story specifically has been very good, and I’ll be watching to see what he finds out.

Once again, I’ve used up most of my space on a Boston bombing story, but I still have room for a few more quick links, with an emphasis on law enforcement and civil liberties.

Cory Doctorow: Kafka, meet Orwell: peek behind the scenes of the modern surveillance state. At the link you can watch a short, powerful documentary about public surveillance in the UK.

Rob Fischer at The New Yorker: Watching the Detectives–a piece about “Floyd v. Floyd v. City of New York, a landmark challenge to the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policies.”

NYT: Former Bush Official Said to Be Obama Pick to Lead F.B.I. Obama is about to nominate James Comey as FBI Director–a man who was in the Bush DOJ during the torture deliberations.

Emptywheel: When NYT Accused Jim Comey of Approving Torture

Holder Faces New Round of Criticism After Leak Inquiries

HuffPo: Eric Holder To Meet With Washington Bureau Chiefs Amid Leak Investigation Criticism (UPDATE)

Politico: N.Y. Times will not attend DOJ session, citing opposition to off-the-record provision

Buzzfeed: ACLU Defends News Organizations For Rejecting Off-The-Record Meeting With Attorney General

And another Boston link: Dirty Old Boston Facebook page shows the city as it really was

Now it’s your turn. What are you reading and blogging about today?


Another Update to the Ever-Expanding Boston Bombing Story

Ibragim Todashev and Reni Manukyan

Ibragim Todashev and Reni Manukyan

I thought I should put up another update, because there has been a lot more walking back of the reports that came out yesterday, not only about whether Ibragim Todashev was holding a knife when he supposedly “lunged” at an FBI agent, but also whether Todashev had even been questioned about involvement in the 2011 triple murder in Waltham MA with which Massachusetts officials have been trying to connect Tamerlan and Dzhokhor Tsarnaev.

This morning The Wall Street Journal reported that Reni Manukyan who is married to Ibragim Todashev–the man who was shot while being interrogated by several law enforcement officers in Orlando, Fl early yesterday–claim neither she nor her husband were ever asked about the murders.

Reni Manukyan, a 24-year-old assistant hotel-housekeeping manager who married Ibragim Todashev at a mosque near Boston in July 2010, says agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrived at her house in Atlanta and her mom’s house in Savannah, Ga., on Tuesday night, the same time they started questioning her late husband at his home in Orlando.

Ms. Manukyan says the FBI agents who came to her house asked about alleged Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, whom she says her husband met after moving to the Boston area from Russia in 2008.

But she says the agents never asked about a Sept. 11, 2011, murder in Waltham, Mass., in which three victims—25-year-old Brendan Mess, 31-year-old Erik Weissman and 37-year-old Raphael Teken—were found dead with their throats slit and bodies covered in marijuana and cash….

“They never, ever—in all the interviews that I had and all the interviews that he had—never did they mention anything about a murder,” Ms. Manukyan said in a telephone interview. “Everything was about the bombing and about him knowing Tamerlan. They would show me a picture of Tamerlan or Tamerlan’s wife or some other guys that I haven’t a clue who they are, but nothing about a murder—nothing ever.”

She says that agent question her several times as they did her husband, and that he couldn’t have been involved in the murders since he doesn’t drink or use drugs of any kind. She doesn’t even think he was in Boston in September of 2011.

Khusen Taramov

Khusen Taramov

The Boston Globe also has a story that walks back a number of yesterday’s reported leaks from investigators. According to the Globe, Todashev’s close friend and former roommate Khusen Taramov also claims Todarov was never questioned about the Waltham murders. He

said the two had been interviewed many times by FBI agents, and had been followed for weeks by an unmarked law enforcement vehicle since the Marathon bombings.

Taramov, a fellow Chechen and immigrant from Russia, said his slain friend had been called almost daily by agents since the bombings, but Todashev had been assured that the Tuesday night interview would be the final one.

“They told us they needed just one more interview,” he said. “They said the case was closed after this.”

Fearful it would make them look suspicious, neither he nor Todashev had a lawyer present during the FBI questioning, Taramov said.

Taramov, who said he had spent nearly every moment with Todashev since the bombing, insisted that his friend had never been asked about the triple slaying in Waltham.

“We told each other everything, everything,” Taramov said. “He never said anything about any murder and they never asked him anything about that. Just about the bombings and [Tamerlan] Tsarnaev.”

Manukyan and Taramov both say that Todashev did not have radical beliefs. He was just a normal Muslim. So what the heck is going on here?

At the Atlantic, Alexander Abad-Santos does a very good job of tracing down yesterday’s reports on whether Todashev had a knife before he was shot and whether he was questioned about and/or admitted to the Waltham murders and where these reports originated. Abad Santos writes:

A confession would have solved the triple homicide, and it would have cemented Tsarnaev’s role in that crime. Since reading Dzhokhar Tsarnaev his miranda rights, investigators haven’t been able to extract information about the Tsarnaevs as freely as they’d like — or at least it hasn’t spilled out in public as much as the people of Boston would like to hear. A confession might have been a big piece in the puzzle of the Tsarnaev brothers. Instead, we’re left with a Jack Bauer-style tale of secret confessions turned deadly, with more questions than answers.

What’s perhaps more puzzling is that the story doesn’t seem to add up: What new piece of information makes a guy who has been cooperating with FBI agents for the last month or so turn on them? Could the seizure of the computer have led to more revelations? Could the threat of jail time have dawned on him? And even more macabre, one of Todashev’s friends told NBC Orlando that he had been questioned with Todashev by agents on Tuesday night — and that Todashev felt like he was going to die. “He felt inside he was going to get shot,” Khusen Taramiv said. “I told him, ‘Everything is going to be fine, don’t worry about it.’ He said, ‘I have a really bad feeling.'”

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Jerelyn at Talk Left also breaks down the various reports and speculates about what might have happened. She also calls attention to another bit of information–that Todashev had a girlfriend named Tatiana Gruzdeva (this may be her Facebook page), and she was arrested by ICE on May 16 and is currently in custody for immigration violations.

Anyone with a shred of empathy could certainly understand why someone who has been shadowed by the FBI for the past month, interrogated repeatedly for hours, and then accused of murder–plus his girlfriend has been turned over to immigration authorities (a common FBI tactic to get information)–might get angry and perhaps make a sudden move. But did he really have to die when there were at least four law enforcement officers in the room with him at the time?

Jerelyn:

FBI interviews aren’t usually recorded. I doubt we’ll ever know what transpired during the interview. We’ll only get self-serving statements by law enforcement that justify their actions.

That some of these law enforcement officials use the words “implicated himself” as opposed to “confessed” in relation to the killings doesn’t mean Todashev acknowledged a role in the killings. If he was in Boston, it could mean something as little as Tamerlan called him that night and asked him to pick him up and give him a ride, or that Tamerlan later gave him some items that would link Tamerlan to the killings. Since Tamerlan is dead, he can’t defend himself against the murder charges law enforcement seems determined to attach to him. (Neither can Todashev.) Even if they find Tamerlan’s DNA at the home of the murdered men, it doesn’t mean he was involved in the murder. Since Tamerlan and one of the victims were good friends, if the DNA is just found somewhere in the home or on clothes or a drinking cup, it could have been deposited prior to the day of the killings.

I am not buying the unconfirmed report that he suddenly went beserk when asked to sign a written confession. Or that he confessed to the murders. He may have said something that the agents believed to be incriminating, but that doesn’t mean Todashev intended it that way or agreed with their interpretation.

I don’t doubt that he “got volatile” at the end — FBI agents don’t execute people for no reason. (Whether the shooting was an overreaction is another question.) But as to what set him off, it could be that after whatever he said that the agent thought was incriminating, the agent told him he was being arrested for the murders, and he reacted angrily because he believed he was being unjustly accused.

There’s more. You can read it at the link.

At this point, all we know for sure is that a witness with valuable information about Tamerlan Tsarnaev is dead. We don’t know who killed him or even whether more than one of the officers present shot him. A team of FBI agents will determine if the shooting was justified, but most likely they’ll find a way to absolve their fellow officers.