An FBI agent has shot and killed a Chechen man with alleged ties to deceased Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, in what was described as a “violent confrontation” in the early hours of Wednesday in Orlando, Florida.
Officials said the man, identified as 27-year-old Ibragim Todashev, was being interviewed about his friendship with Tsarnaev when he tried to attack an agent with a knife. The FBI confirmed the agent sustained “non-life threatening injuries” before shooting dead his assailant.
Law enforcement officers reportedly visited Mr Todashev at his apartment late on Tuesday night. Mr Todashev, who had been living in the US for the past five years, spent some of that time in Boston, and came into contact with Tsarnaev through the mixed martial arts community. Authorities suspect the pair of a gruesome, unsolved triple murder, committed on 11 September 2011, the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Brendan Mess, Raphael Teken, and Erik Weissman were found with their throats cut at an apartment in Waltham, Massachusetts; their bodies were covered with marijuana. Tsarnaev had previously described Mr Mess as his best friend, though the two had reportedly fallen out.
Mr Todashev was initially co-operative, but allegedly turned violent during questioning. Officials claimed he admitted involvement in the murders, and then lashed out as he was asked to sign a written statement, confessing his part in the crime.
The Orlando news station WESH-TV spoke to Mr Todashev’s friend Khusn Taramiv, who said he too had been interviewed. “[The FBI] were talking to us, both of us,” he said. “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.” Mr Todashev had been targeted by the FBI, Mr Taramiv claimed, because he was a Muslim. “He was not radical at all,” Mr Taramiv said.
Earlier this month, Mr Todashev had been arrested by Florida police for aggravated battery, after he allegedly assaulted a 54-year-old man and his 35-year-old son after a dispute about a parking space at an Orlando shopping mall. He was detained at gunpoint by a security guard after attempting to flee in a Mercedes.
The FBI had questioned Mr Todashev at least twice previously about his relationship with Tsarnaev, following the bombings at the Boston Marathon on 15 April, which killed three people and wounded more than 250. Mr Taramiv claimed Mr Todashev and his friends had been under heavy surveillance by law enforcement officials for a month. “They’ve been following us,” Mr Taramiv said. “Every time we go somewhere, there’s two, three cops undercover. We see them.”
The authorities have spent the past month investigating how the Tsarnaev brothers became radicalised, and whether they had any accomplices. In interviewing the Tsarnaevs’ friends and family, they have focused on people from Chechnya and the northern Caucasus region of Russia. It is thought Tamerlan Tsarnaev may have come into contact with militants when he travelled to the area last year.