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Boston bombing suspect's friend killed by FBI

8:29 PM, May 22, 2013   |    comments
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(Photo: Orange County (Fla.) Sheriff Office)

(USA TODAY) -- A Florida man originally from Chechnya was fatally shot early Wednesday while being questioned about his ties to the Boston bombing suspects and about the unsolved 2011 murders of three men in Waltham, Mass., two law enforcement officials said.

Ibragim Todashev, 27, of Kissimmee, Fla., was killed in a condominium in Orlando, near Universal Studios, after he attacked and wounded an FBI agent with a knife or other sharp object, one official said.

It was not immediately clear whether the fatal shot was fired by the agent or other law enforcement officials involved in the questioning, including two Massachusetts State Police troopers.

The agent's unspecified wound was not life threatening and was closed with stitches. The FBI is investigating the shooting.

The confrontation occurred when Todashev was allegedly preparing to sign off on a statement that would have implicated him and Boston bombing suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in the Sept. 11, 2011, slayings in Waltham.

The bodies of Brendan Mess, 25, Raphael Teken, 37, and Erik Weissman, 31, were found in a Waltham apartment. The victims' throats had been cut and marijuana had been strewn around the scene, where investigators also recovered about $5,000.

The vicious attack, one official said, was allegedly prompted by a drug-related dispute.

DNA from Todashev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev is being tested to see if they were at the murder scene.

Although it is believed Todashev and Tsarnaev communicated at least a month before the April 15 attacks, both officials said there was no indication that Todashev was involved in the bomb plot or helped carry out the attacks that killed three people and wounded more than 260 others.

The early morning Wednesday incident preceded two to three rounds of questioning about Todashev's alleged knowledge of the Waltham murders and his associations with the Tsarnaev brothers. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured the day after his brother's death and is facing terror-related charges that carry a possible death penalty.

The Massachusetts State Police, who have been investigating the murders, declined to comment Wednesday. The Middlesex County, Mass., District Attorney's Office, which would be prosecuting the case, referred all questions to the FBI.

In a brief written statement, the FBI's Boston Division said only that the suspect was being interviewed by the FBI agent, state troopers and "other law enforcement personnel'' "when a violent confrontation was initiated by the individual.''

"During the confrontation, the individual was killed and the agent sustained non-life threatening injuries,'' according to the statement.

The incident comes as Attorney General Eric Holder met Wednesday with his Russian counterpart, Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev, at the Justice Department.

U.S. authorities have sought Russia's cooperation in the Boston investigation relating to Tamerlan Tsarnaev's travel to Russia last year.

Prior to the trip, Russian authorities had alerted the FBI to suspicions about Tsarnaev's possible extremist activities. A subsequent investigation by the FBI found no derogatory information and the investigation was closed. A similar notice was sent to the CIA, which submitted Tsarnaev's name for inclusion on U.S. terror watch lists.

Tsarnaev, however, was not pursued following his return from Russia last July because the investigation had been closed and Russia provided no further information.

The Justice Department declined to comment on the discussion and the Russian embassy said the Interior Ministry would issue a statement on the meeting at an undisclosed later time.

Last year, Todashev lived in Watertown, the Boston suburb where 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev died during a shootout with police three days after the bombings, the Associated Press reported, citing public records. His 19-year-old brother, Dzhokhar, has been charged in connection with the attack and is being held at a prison medical center outside Boston.

Todashev, an ethnic Chechen, was a casual friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, according to the victim's friend, Khusen Taramov.

Taramov said his friend knew Tamerlan because they were both interested in mixed martial arts.

"Back when (Todashev) used to live in Boston, they used to hang out -- not hang out -- he knew him. They met a few times because (Todashev) was a MMA fighter and (Tsarnaev) was a boxer. They just knew each other. That's it," Taramov told WKMG-TV.

He added that Todashev last spoke with Tsarnaev via phone or Skype a week or perhaps a month before the April 15 bombings, but that the call only lasted about five minutes and had nothing to do with the marathon attack.

Taramov told WESH-TV that the double bombings were "a complete shock" to Todashev.

NBC reported that law enforcement sources said Todashev "had some connections with radical Chechen rebels, but they say it's not clear whether he had any role in radicalizing Tsarnaev."

NBC said he had arrived in the United States in 2006. A federal law enforcement official told CNN that Todashev was granted political asylum in 2008 and given legal residency.

CNN said he was unemployed and had been living on insurance money after surgery for an unspecified accident.

Taramov told WESH-TV that he and the victim were questioned for about three hours by the FBI on Tuesday and that agents then wanted to interview Todashev alone.

"They told me they're going to bring him back," Taramov said. "They never brought him back. He felt inside he was going to get shot."

He also said FBI agents had been following him and Todashev for several days.

Todashev had tickets to fly to Chechnya on Tuesday night but the FBI had "strongly advised" him not to leave, Taramov told Central Florida News 13. The tickets were bought before the bombings.

"He canceled the tickets because the FBI had been ... pushing him," he said. "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."

A law enforcement source told CNN that Todashev was booked to fly from Chechnya via New York and Moscow when agents sought to interview him.

Orlando police arrested Todashev May 4 on charges of aggravated battery after a fight over a parking spot. He posted bond and was released the next day. He was also arrested after a 2010 road rage altercation in Boston, but no charges were filed.

USA TODAY

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