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25 May, 2013 00:03

FBI killing of man with ties to Tsarnaev: Self-defense or excessive force?

FBI killing of man with ties to Tsarnaev: Self-defense or excessive force?

The circumstances surrounding the fatal shooting of Ibragim Todashev remain murky, and the FBI has little interest in revealing too much information as the suspect’s death might be a case of excessive force, associate law professor Sahar Aziz told RT.

So was there a knife?

According to the preliminary FBI account, Todashev, a 28-year-old Chechen immigrant living in Orlando, Florida, became violent and lunged at an FBI special agent with a knife while being questioned about his ties to alleged Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev and an unsolved 2011 triple murder in the Boston suburb of Waltham. The agent, reacting to an “imminent threat,” shot Todashev dead.

Ibragim Todashev is pictured in this undated booking photo courtesy of the Orange County Corrections Department. (AFP Photo)

Later in the day, FBI officials backed away from that version of events, leaving no clear official account of what happened moments before Todashev was killed on Wednesday.

Witnesses report hearing multiple shots that night, and while an autopsy reportedly completed by Thursday, the report will not be released until a criminal investigation into the event is completed.

At the time of the shooting, up to half a dozen law-enforcers, including two Massachusetts State Police troopers and an FBI agent from the agency’s Boston division, were present at the condo not far from Universal Studios.

The FBI claims that moments before Todashev "just went crazy" and attacked the agent, he had agreed to sign a confession which would have implicated both him and Tamerlan in the unsolved killings in which three male victims brutally had their throats slit. The murders took place on September 11, 2011, the ten year anniversary of the World Trade Center attack.

While law enforcement sources initially said Todashev stabbed the agent with a knife, there was later “confusion” over what object he actually used to attack his questioner, ABC news reports.

“Definitely no one said that he had pulled a gun but there was some media talk about whether he had pulled a knife, and then the FBI retracted that and said we don’t know exactly what happened,” said Sahar Aziz, and Associate Law Professor at Texas Wesleyan University.

“So there is definitely a question of whether shooting him was a use of excessive force. Because even if, for example, he had punched the officer, it could possibly be unreasonable or unnecessary to shoot someone in defense of being punched. Usually you are supposed to use commensurate force,” she told RT.

‘He just wanted everything to be over’

The FBI first began surveillance and later questioned Todashev several days after the April 15 Boston attack took place. From all accounts, he had cooperated with investigators up until his death.

Todashev had reportedly purchased a plane ticket before the bombings occurred to return to his native Chechnya, but canceled his trip at the FBI’s request.

“He had a ticket to New York. From there, he was going to go home [to Chechnya],” WESH Orlando quoted his friend and roommate Khusen Taramov as saying. “[The FBI was] pushing him to stay, saying, ‘we want to interview one last time.'" Taramov said Todashev canceled the ticket at the FBI’s insistence.

When news of the shooting first broke, Taramov said he and Todashev had been interviewed by FBI agents for nearly three hours on Tuesday in connection with the Boston Marathon bombings.

“(The FBI) took me and my friend, the suspect that got killed. They were talking to us, both of us, right? And they said they need him for a little more, for a couple more hours, and I left, and they told me they’re going to bring him back. They never brought him back.”

Taramov, who noted that Todashev had been interviewed on multiple occasions following the Boston attack, denies law enforcement accounts that his friend simply went crazy and attacked.

"He didn't flip out," Taramov, said. "I think something went wrong there. I think they just shot him. He didn't do anything. I know him. He just wanted everything to be over."

Todashev did have a history of violence. According to records from the Orange County Sheriff Office, Todashev had been charged earlier this month with aggravated battery for allegedly fighting with a father and son over a parking space in a mall parking lot in Kissimmee, Florida. Todashev said he acted in self-defense.

While living in Boston, he was also arrested in February 2010 after getting into a fight with strangers. One witness stated Todashev “was clearly the aggressor,” according to police reports.

However, his father, Abdulbaki Todashev, described his son as “a very calm” man, saying his son would not become aggressive without reason.

“Never in his life would he attack anyone unprovoked,” the elder Todashev stressed.

Todashev’s estranged wife, Reniya Manukyan, said her husband was cooperating with the FBI and had nothing to hide. "He wasn't involved. So he was not even nervous [to talk with the FBI]," local NBC affiliate News Channel 5 cites her as saying.

Reniya Manukyan seen with her husband, Ibragim Todashev. (Image from vk.com)

Manukyan said their common Chechen roots and an interest in mixed martial arts brought her husband into contact with Tsarnaev, but “they weren’t friends or anything.”“He expected that they were going to come and question him because they both come from the same place from Chechnya,” she explained.

She also denies her husband’s role in the 2011 triple homicide, though she does confirm he traveled back to Boston in the summer of 2011. DNA from that crime scene is currently being tested and compared with Todashev's DNA.

Later, in an angry post on Vkontakte, Russia’s most popular social network, Manukyan blasted the FBI with an expletive-strewn post, claiming: Killing my husband Ibragim was another [proof] that everything is a setup about Tsarnaev brothers as well.

Many questions with no answers, yet

Early on Wednesday morning, officials at the FBI headquarter in Washington dispatched a shooting-response unit to Florida to help investigators determine what had occurred.

The following day, scores of FBI employees could be seen coming and going from the condo where Todashev was killed.

In addition to the FBI's review team, a separate Shooting Incident Review Group committee will analyze the incident. The independent committee, which includes up to 13 members of the FBI, will evaluate whether use of force was justified. No new information will likely surface until those investigations are concluded.

But apart from the use of deadly force, several other questions have been raised regarding the death of Todashev.

If Todashev had a history of violence, was being interviewed in connection with a recent terrorist event, and was believed to have played a role in a related triple homicide, why was he being interviewed in his home at midnight and not at a law enforcement facility?

How did a knife or other unidentified object come into his possession during the course of the several hour interview?

If law enforcers are unwilling to state emphatically that the object in question was even a knife, was lethal force necessary to subdue him while vastly outnumbered by several agents?

FBI personnel walk through the complex surrounding the apartment, where Ibragim Todashev, 27, was shot and killed by FBI, in Orlando, Florida, May 22, 2013. (Reuters / Phelan Ebenehack)

Todashev had yet to be charged with a crime and had every right to refuse being questioned without having a lawyer present. From all accounts, he had been willing to cooperate with the FBI on multiple occasions. He also chose not to return home to Chechnya although he had already purchased tickets and no warrant had been issued for his arrest. If he felt cornered or pressured into making a confession, why would he attack half a dozen law enforcers rather than ask for a lawyer?

And last but not least - was the final interrogation videotaped?

“We know very little about what happened because the only source of information is the FBI and presumably it’s not in their self-interest to reveal too much information [since] there’s now an investigation into his death because this could possibly be a case of excessive force in violation of his constitutional rights,” Sahar Aziz argues.

Whatever happened that night, Taramov recalled an ominous conversation he had with Todashev just hours before his death.

“We had a feeling, worst case scenario something like that was going to happen…He felt inside he was going to get shot," Taramov said.

"I told him, 'everything is going to be fine, don't worry about it.' He said, 'I have a really bad feeling.'"