Why'd the FBI Kill Tamerlan Tsarnaev's Accomplice-to-Be if He Was Unarmed?

Multiple reports now claim Ibragim Todashev was unarmed and alone in a room with a single FBI agent when he was killed, two evolving details that continue to raise questions about why investigators used lethal force against a man who may not have posed a lethal threat but who definitely had key information on Tsarnaev.

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Law enforcement officials are walking their claims of self-defense all the way back a week after the shooting of Ibragim Todashev — the 27-year-old man who was about to officially confess to a triple murder in Massachusetts and finger Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev while he was at it — in his Orlando home by an FBI agent. The Washington Post and Orlando's NBC affiliate   both now report that Todashev was unarmed and alone in a room with the single FBI agent when he was killed early on the morning of May 22, two evolving details that continue to raise questions about why investigators used lethal force against a man who may not have posed a lethal threat but who definitely had key information on Tsarnaev.

The Post's Sari Horwitz and Peter Finn report that Todashev "lunged at the agent and overturned a table," at which point, according to Orlando's WESH, "the FBI agent believed he could have possibly been going for his gun or the sword in the room, and that's when the agent opened fire." So, yes, there may have been a giant sword somewhere in Todashev's apartment near Universal Studios, and there could yet be missing pieces in the bizarre public puzzle of this terrorism subplot — the FBI said in a second statement about the case Wednesday that an internal review of the incident was still underway, and the Boston bombing investigation has not been short on misinformation coming from anonymous law enforcement officials. But some initial reports after the Jack Bauer-style saga surfaced last Wednesday insisted that Todashev, after orally confessing to a grisly 2011 killing in Waltham, Massachusetts, attacked the agent with a knife. Within a day, but under the radar, some of the anonymous officials began to change their story, backtracking about the Todashev confession standoff and telling outlets like the AP that "it was no longer clear what had happened." The FBI has only said in a statement that "a violent confrontation was initiated by the individual."

Todashev's family and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which pressed for a separate Department of Justice inquiry on Wednesday, have insisted that he did not have access to a weapon and that the killing "was not justified." Of course, at that point Todashev was a half-confessed murderer in the grisly throat-slitting of a 2011 drug-deal setup turned violent killing himself.

But at his apartment late last Tuesday night, he was clearly outnumbered and outgunned. After weeks of cooperating with investigators, Todashev was being interviewed for multiple hours by multiple federal agents and, according to the FBI, at least two Massachusetts state police officers and other law enforcement officials. The narrative floating around the press had been that Todashev, a mixed martial arts fighter and friend of Tsarnaev back in Boston, was going to or could have killed someone. The Washington Post's sources may debunk that:

An agent sustained non-life-threatening injuries, later described by one law enforcement official as "some cuts and abrasions."

An official said that according to one account of the shooting, the other law enforcement officials had just stepped out of the room, leaving the FBI agent alone with Todashev, when the confrontation occurred.

Again, pass the salt with this anonymous reporting, and we still don't have details on the confrontation between this would-be Bauer and Tsarnaev's would-be accomplice. But that "some cuts and abrasions" line does jibe with what FBI officials told CNN on May 23 — that the agent "sustained non-life-threatening injuries," and if Todashev was alone with one agent, well, maybe he wasn't exactly outnumbered and maybe he made his move. Increasingly this is becoming a sideshow between one agent and one strange man when it might have been something of a major break in the case against the Tsarnaev brothers — at the very least, a written confession from Todashev before he died would have provided a legally justified sign that Tsarnaev had been a drug dealer or a killer before he took what had been thought as the fateful trip to Russian in 2012, that he had been criminally violent before he was hypothetically radicalized.

But if we are now discounting stories about the knife and a standoff with multiple agents, what makes us so sure those stories about how Todashev was supposed to sign a confession implicating him and Tsarnaev are so solid themselves? Todashev's father is now stating that the 2011 triple homicide in Waltham, which Todashev reportedly confessed to, was not part of Todashev's earlier interrogations with the FBI. At a news conference in Moscow on Thursday, he held up 16 photos of his son's body in the morgue, insisting that FBI agents had killed his son, "execution-style." "I'd only seen and heard things like that in the movies – they shoot somebody and then a shot in the head to make sure," Abdul-Baki Todashev said at the briefing, according to the Associated Press. "These just aren't FBI agents, they're bandits."

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