FBI shooting in Orlando linked to triple murder near Boston

Last Updated: Thursday, May 23, 2013, 8:36 AM

A Chechen immigrant shot to death in Orlando after an altercation with an FBI agent had several ties to one of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects who authorities were questioning him about at the time.

Ibragim Todashev's Chechen roots and mixed martial arts background mirror that of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Boston bombing suspect killed in a shootout with police last month. The two also had lived in the Boston area.

Todashev, a 27-year-old mixed martial arts fighter, was fatally shot by authorities early Wednesday at his Orlando home during a meeting with the agent and two Massachusetts state troopers, authorities said. The agent was taken to a hospital with injuries that were not life-threatening.

Three law enforcement officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Todashev had lunged at the FBI agent with a knife. However, two of those officials said later in the day it was no longer clear what had happened. The third official had not received any new information.

The FBI gave no details on why it was interested in Todashev except to say that he was being questioned as part of the Boston investigation. However, two officials briefed on the investigation said he had implicated himself as having been involved in a 2011 triple-slaying in a Boston suburb that authorities believe may have been connected to Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the 26-year-old Boston bombing suspect killed in a shootout with police days after the April 15 terrorist attack.

Public records show that Todashev resided in nearby Watertown, Mass. last year.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev's younger brother, Dzhokhar, survived the shootout with police and is now charged with carrying out the attack that killed three people and wounded more than 260 in downtown Boston. He is also charged in the slaying of an MIT police officer days later.

Several of Todashev's former roommates who were questioned by the FBI said he knew Tamerlan Tsarnaev, an aspiring boxer, from mixed martial arts fighting in Boston and that the FBI was asking about him.

"He's a regular guy, nothing wrong," Saeed Dunkaev said of Todashev.

Todashev had lived on and off with other Chechens in the Orlando suburb of Kissimmee and had moved to Orlando more recently, friends said.

Investigators have been trying to establish the scope of the plot. In addition, authorities in Massachusetts said they would investigate whether Tamerlan Tsarnaev had any connection to the unsolved 2011 deaths in the Boston suburb of Waltham, where three men were found in an apartment, their throats slit and marijuana sprinkled over their bodies. One of the victims was a boxer and a friend of Tsarnaev's.

Two officials who were briefed on the investigation said Todashev made statements, while he was being interviewed by the FBI and Massachusetts state police, implicating himself as having been involved in the 2011 Waltham slayings. Neither of the officials, one of whom had earlier told The Associated Press there was no new information on Todashev lunging at the agent, knew whether Todashev had also implicated Tamerlan Tsarnaev in the killings. The two people, a federal law enforcement official and a Massachusetts state official, spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release details of the investigation.

Neither official was sure of the extent of Todashev's supposed involvement.

Police records suggest Todashev had a hot temper, with arrests in a road rage incident and, more recently, in a fight over a parking space.

Muslin Chapkhanov, another former roommate, said Todashev knew the older Tsarnaev brother. Todashev "was living in Boston and I think he trained with him," Chapkhanov said.

Former roommate Khusen Taramov said the FBI was asking questions about a conversation Todashev had with the older bombing suspect a month before the Boston Marathon attack.

The ex-roommate said Todashev shared the substance of his previous conversations with investigators with him and that he was completely forthcoming, saying that the conversation covered basic how's-your-life kinds of topics.

It's why he was surprised that Wednesday's interview ended the way it did.

"He told them everything," Taramov said. "He told everything he knew...I don't know why that (the shooting) happened. It's crazy."

Taramov said Todashev was afraid before Wednesday's interview as well.

"That's what he asked me before he pretty much died," Taramov said. "He asked me, `If something happens can you go out and tell all the truth. What exactly happened.'"

Like Todashev, the Tsarnaev brothers have roots in the turbulent Russian regions of Dagestan and Chechnya, which have become recruiting grounds for Islamic extremists. Investigators have said the brothers carried out the Boston bombing in retaliation for the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

An FBI team was dispatched from Washington to review the shooting, standard procedure in such cases.

Todashev was arrested earlier this month on a charge of aggravated battery after getting into a fight over a parking spot with two men - a father and son - at an Orlando shopping mall. The son was hospitalized with a split lip and several teeth knocked out, according to a sheriff's report. Todashev claimed self-defense.

"Also by his own admission Todashev was recently a former mixed martial arts fighter," the arresting deputy said in his report. "This skill puts his fighting ability way above that of a normal person."

Todashev was released on $3,500 bail after his May 4 arrest. His attorney, Alain Rivas, didn't immediately respond to a call for comment Wednesday.

Todashev was also arrested by Boston police in 2010 after a road rage incident. Witnesses told police that he argued with two other drivers and cut them off with his vehicle. According to a police report, he yelled, "You say something about my mother, I will kill you."

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FBI: Questioning turned violent

The Todashev shooting happened overnight in the Windhover apartment complex off Peregrine Avenue, near Kirkman and Vineland roads.

In a statement, FBI spokesman Paul Bresson said the FBI agent acted on an imminent threat and shot Todashev. The FBI agent was transported to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

The FBI released the following updated statement:

"The FBI is currently reviewing a shooting incident involving an FBI Special Agent. Based on preliminary information, the incident occurred in Orlando, Florida during the early morning hours of 5/22/2013. The agent along with two Massachusetts State Police troopers and other law enforcement personnel were interviewing an individual in connection with the Boston Marathon bombing investigation when a violent confrontation was initiated by the individual. During the confrontation, the individual was killed and the agent sustained non-life threatening injuries. As this incident is under review, we have no further details at this time."

One of Todashev's friends, Khusen Taramov, said the day that federal agents identified the Tsarnaev brothers as the Boston bombing suspects, FBI agents came to the apartment complex and started questioning a few people of Chechnyan descent. Taramov also said the FBI had been following the group of men.

“One day they started questioning us, next day after the bombing, not the bombing, after they found out the bombers were Chechnyans, and they started following us, watching us. They pretty much told the guy from his apartment and they start following us, watching us like every day,” said Taramov.

Taramov said Todashev met Tamerlan Tsarnaev in Boston and the two had hung out a few times.

Taramov said Todashev met with FBI agents Tuesday night, which was supposed to be their last meeting because he was planning to fly back to Chechnya that night. He said the plane ticket was purchased before the Boston bombings, but federal agents strongly advised him not to go home.

“He cancelled the tickets because, the FBI had been like, I don’t know, they’ve been pushing him, you know what I’m saying. They’ve been pushing him they say 'don’t leave, don’t leave' so he decided to stay. But we had a feeling, worst case scenario something like that was going to happen. You know what I mean,” said Taramov.

The FBI has confirmed that the man killed is Ibragim Todashev who lived at 6022 Peregrine Avenue. They have not said if the investigation is related to the Boston bombings. However, they said the agent was working on a case inside the apartment complex when the shooting happened.

The Associated Press in Washington is reporting that Todashev became violent during questioning in Boston bombing case.

"We are currently responding to a shooting incident involving an FBI special agent," said FBI spokesperson Special Agent Dave Couvertier. "The incident occurred in Orlando, Florida. The agent encountered the suspect while conducting official duties. The suspect is deceased. We do not have any further details at this time. We expect to have more information later this morning."

The FBI said a post-shooting incident review team has been dispatched from Washington, D.C. and is expected to arrive in Orlando by Thursday.

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Todashev was arrested May 4 in Orange County

The Orange County Sheriff’s Office said Ibragim Todashev was arrested on May 4 following an incident at the Premium Outlet Mall.

According to an arrest report, Todashev told deputies he got into an argument over a parking space with a man and his son.

The report said during the argument, Todashev pushed the man and the man’s son came swinging at Todashev and the two began fighting and the man ended up unconscious on the ground covered in blood.

The man was transported to Dr. Phillips Hospital by Orange County Fire Rescue where he was treated for head injuries and a split upper lip. He also had several teeth knocked out of place.

Witnesses said Todashev left the parking lot in a white Mercedes with a Georgia license plate.

The sheriff’s office said a deputy who was working off duty at the mall was called to the scene by mall security. Witnesses described the suspect’s vehicle to the deputy who was able to locate that and follow it out of the mall down Vineland Avenue. Another deputy responded with the off duty deputy and they were able to stop the vehicle and ordered the suspect, later identified by the victim as Todashev, out of the car at gunpoint.

Todashev told deputies that he had surgery on his knee in March and only fought back to protect his leg.

Todashev also told deputies he was a former mixed martial arts fighter and his “skill puts his fighting ability way above that of a normal person.”

Todashev was arrested and charged with Aggravated Battery, Great Bodily Harm. He was released from the Orange County Jail after posting $3,500 bond.

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Tampa Bay man was Todashev's MMA opponent

A mixed martial arts fighter who lives in the Tampa Bay area and trains in New Port Richey was Todashev's last documented opponent in the cage.

Brad May has been involved in the mixed martial arts community since he was a teenager, and made his professional debut in July of last year against another new pro, Ibragim Todashev.

"He seemed kind of socially awkward. Like, he was staring at the ground, really quiet the first night at the weigh in he didn't have anybody with him but you know, I kind of chalked it up to you don't want to talk to the guy you're fighting," said May.

The fight took place in a cage at the real fighting championships in Tampa.

MMA fighter Chris Jensen attended the match and remembers Todashev as a fighter who showed a lot of potential.

"I just remember he was a real quiet kid. Very determined in his fight. I remember him in the locker room, he was kinda cold, it was dark, but most fighters are like that," said Jensen.

Both men say they were shocked to find out Todashev had been killed in a confrontation with the FBI while being questioned about the Boston bombing case.

They say word spread quickly through the MMA ranks.

"My boss called me and I thought he was mad at me because I was five minutes late and I’m like 'I’m not late" and he's like "bro, you're not going to believe this. Remember the Russian kid that fought for us in July, he was a suspect and there was a shootout and he was shot and killed and I was "wow!" said Jensen.

As for May, he lost his fight against Todashev.

"I wouldn't say it was anything spectacular or anything I haven't seen before. He just got luckier than I did on that night," said May. "We were talking about it after the fight, you know, 'let's go get a fight or two and then re-match him," so that's what I was looking forward to but now obviously I can't do that."

Todashev went to a gym in the Orlando area to train. Staff members at the gym and others from the Tampa area said he wasn't memorable at all.