ORLANDO, Fla. — The Central Florida man who was shot and killed by an FBI agent early Wednesday was being questioned about a 2011 triple-slaying in Massachusetts and about his relationship with the Boston Marathon bombings suspects, federal law enforcement officials told the Tribune Washington Bureau.
The FBI told the Orlando Sentinel that an FBI agent — along with two Massachusetts State Police troopers and other law enforcement personnel — were interviewing 27-year-old Ibragim Todashev when a violent confrontation was initiated by Todashev.
Federal law enforcement sources said Todashev — who knew bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev through mixed martial arts in Boston — “primarily” was being asked about a Sept. 11, 2011, triple murder in Waltham, Mass., because officials believe he and Tsarnaev may have had a role in cutting the throats of three men and sprinkling marijuana over the bodies.
The law enforcement officials also said that they had questions about Todashev’s relationship with Tsarnaev, and the fact that the two had spoken shortly before the Marathon bombing. Todashev reportedly lunged at the FBI agent with a knife during the interview.
“During the confrontation, the individual was killed and the agent sustained non-life threatening injuries,” FBI Special Agent Dave Couvertier, a spokesman for the Orlando region, said in an email statement. “As this incident is under review, we have no further details at this time.”
Todashev was shot in a condo in the Windhover community, a quiet residential area near Universal Studios. Todashev’s home address is in Kissimmee, Fla..; it’s not clear why he was at the Orlando apartment or why he was being questioned there.
An FBI post-shooting incident review team has been dispatched from Washington, D.C., and is expected to arrive in Orlando within 24 hours, Couvertier said.
Todashev lived in a gated community in Kissimmee called Orlando Sun Village, longtime friend Saeed Dunkaev told the Sentinel.
Dunkaev, 25, said he and other Chechens were taken to the Kissimmee Police Department two days ago and interviewed by the FBI for three hours.
They asked a lot of questions about religion, Dunkaev said.
Dunkaev, a California resident and mixed martial-arts fan, is a truck driver who stays with Todashev and other Chechens at Orlando Sun Village when he is in Florida, he said.
Friends at the Kissimmee home traced back to Todashev in public records searches said Wednesday that he was actually living with his girlfriend at the Orlando complex at the time of the shooting.
Near the scene of the shooting Wednesday morning, Khusen Taramov, a 22-year-old who described himself as a friend of Todashev, told several television outlets that his friend was being investigated in relation to the Boston bombings.
Taramov told the Sentinel in an interview in Kissimmee that Todashev knew bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev because both were mixed martial-arts fighters.
Taramov said Todashev had lived in Boston, did MMA fighting with Tamerlan Tsarnaev, and that Todashev had last talked to Tamerlan Tsarnaev about a month ago by phone.
Since the April 15 Boston Marathon bombing attack, Taramov said, the FBI have been questioning Todashev, and have also talked to him.
Taramov spent almost all of the last week with Todashev because, he said, his friend was scared and tired after weeks of nearly constantly being followed and occasionally questioned by FBI agents.
“I was with him every minute. I knew what was going on in his head,” he said of Todashev’s fear of being linked to the Boston Marathon bombing. “To me, it’s a setup. This is what he was afraid of. They had nothing against him. He was innocent.”
Todashev was outraged about the Boston bombings, three of his friends in Kissimmee said.
Then, he was stunned to learn he knew both brothers from having lived in Boston, where every Chechen seems to know each other, his friends said. Todashev’s reaction was fear and concern.
“‘What the hell —I know this guy,’” Taramov said his friend said. Then Todashev told him he was afraid the FBI was going to come after him because he was Chechen.
Several of Todashev’s friends told the Sentinel Wednesday that the FBI told him Tuesday night would be his last interview and that he was going to be cleared.
Friends said the agents previously talked Todashev out of taking a scheduled flight home to see his mother, father, younger sister and brother for the first time in years.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev — the older of two Chechen-born brothers accused in the bombings — died after a shootout with police in Boston after the bombing.
His brother, 19-year-old Dzhokar, is charged with carrying out the April 15 Boston Marathon attack that killed three and injured 260.
NBC News reported Wednesday morning that law enforcement officials said Todashev had confessed to the agent in Florida that he played a role in a triple murder in 2011 in which three men were killed in an apartment in Waltham, Mass.
Their throats had been cut, and their bodies were covered with marijuana. No suspects had been arrested in that case, but it has been reported that authorities suspected Tamerlan Tsarnaev was also involved in that triple murder.
In an unrelated incident, Todashev was arrested by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office on May 4 and charged with aggravated battery with great bodily harm.
In that incident, Todashev told deputies he got in a fight with a man over a parking space at the Orlando Premium Outlet mall and “was only fighting to protect his knee because he had surgery in March,” according to the arrest report.
The Sheriff’s office report says that two men were fighting and one — later identified as Todashev — was leaving the scene in a vehicle, while the other was on the ground, appeared unconscious, and surrounded by “a considerable amount of blood.”
Deputies pursued Todashev, pulled him over and ordered him out of his car at gunpoint, according to the report. The victim, who had a split upper lip and “several teeth knocked out of place,” did not want to press charges, according to the report.
According to WESH Channel 2, who got information from an unnamed FBI source, Todashev “flipped out” during an interview Tuesday night and an agent was forced to shoot him.
FBI sources also told WESH that Todashev has extremist friends overseas.
Couvertier would not confirm that information.
“We are still gathering facts involving the shooting incident,” he said.
The Medical Examiner’s office will conduct an autopsy on Todashev’s body Wednesday.
Near the scene Wednesday morning, Bob Tursky – whose son lives a few doors down from Todashev said he was acquainted with Todashev, who he said always seemed like a nice guy, and that the two often made small talk.
Tursky said Todashev told him he was a martial arts fighter and once told him he won $500 in a bout.
An Internet search shows Todashev won an MMA fight in July 2012 at the A La Carte Event Pavilion in Tampa. Todashev fights out of Kissimmee, according to multiple websites.
Florida state records show Todashev was issued a Mixed Martial Arts license on Aug. 14. That license, which is required to participate in an MMA event in Florida, expired Dec. 31.
Todashev was also issued a Federal Identification number for Mixed Martial Arts on Aug. 14. That is good through Aug. 17, 2016, and that federal license is required to participate in MMA matches, according to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
Neighbors roamed around the condos sharing stories and getting a peek at the rear of the unit where FBI agents set up a tent and are collecting evidence inside.
No one knew the suspect well but say the community is tight-knit and frequently people get together and talk around the complex’s pond.
In the last two months, neighbors reported unfamiliar cars and men walking around the complex and parking near the condo.
Neighbor Debbie Elliot lives just a few units away from the unit where she said gunshots at the Windhover community awoke her this morning.
Unsure of what was going on, she said she woke up others inside her home and started scouring the Internet for information as the parking lot exploded with police and men wearing FBI windbreakers.
She later learned a muscular man she thought was her neighbor who had an accent and gave candy to neighborhood kids, was the center of all the attention.
She said she saw a man thought to be Todashev doing grueling exercise routines in the Windhover community pool. It is unclear whether he lived in the condo FBI agents roped off.
Most neighbors knew the man casually and conversations were relegated to chit chat as he walked his dog around the complex.
Nothing about the man inspired suspicion.
“He was a friendly guy. Everyone around here talked to him,” Elliott said. “He never told us his name . .. It’s shocking.”