Last week, a team of FBI agents and Massachusetts police officers questioned Ibragim Todashev, an associate of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings who was killed days after that calamity.
One of the agents left the interview with minor injuries. Todashev was carted out with, apparently, several bullet holes in his body. We say “apparently” because journalists have gotten a tangle of conflicting reports from law enforcement sources about what happened, many of which look bad for the FBI.
As best we can make out, Todashev had confessed to participating with Tsarnaev, a fellow Chechen, in a 2011 triple murder. He then apparently did something to provoke an FBI agent in the room, and the agent shot him. An early account — all have been provided anonymously — indicated that Todashev had a knife. Last Wednesday, though, it emerged that he was unarmed. Many reports agree that he overturned a table. Some suggest that Todashev might have been lunging for the agent’s gun, or — weirdly — a samurai sword in the room.
From Moscow, Todashev’s father is alleging that the FBI executed his son. With the eyes of the world once again on the United States’ response to an act of terrorism and its treatment of foreign nationals, the last thing the U.S. government needs to do is fuel wild conspiracy theories by releasing too little information or investigating too slowly.
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Even if the world weren’t watching, the case would warrant exceptional attention. FBI agents may very well have had reason to worry about Todashev. But if so, did they really leave a samurai sword in the room during questioning? Did they really leave only one person with Todashev? If neither of those accounts holds up, how else could the shooting be justified?
The FBI said that it takes the incident “very seriously,” that it is reviewing the events internally with its “time-tested” procedures and that it is doing so “expeditiously.” But the curious circumstances and conflicting, anonymous explanations suggest that standard procedure might not be sufficient.
The Washington Post