Will report on FBI killing of Boston bomber pal quell conspiracy theories?

Transparency has been a problem in the case of an associate of alleged Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev killed while in FBI custody. An independent report Monday may clear the air – or not.

Orange County Corrections Department/AP Photo
Ibragim Todashev, shown here in a May 4, 2013, photo, was fatally shot on May 22, 2013, by an FBI agent. Reports leaked on Friday indicate that the agent will not be charged with any criminal wrongdoing.

Did Ibragim Todashev, an associate of alleged Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, lunge with a knife at an FBI agent before being shot, or not? Was Mr. Todashev a violent street fighter lashing out at his federal persecutors – or a victim of an agency that sees itself as above the law?

For now, signs are pointing to both federal and state authorities clearing the FBI agent who killed Todashev as agents questioned the mixed martial arts fighter about what he knew about the twin Boston bombings. Those sources say investigators found that the agent was justified in using deadly force.

The May 20, 2013 shooting took place in the hectic and confusing aftermath of the April 15, 2013 Boston Marathon bombings and massive manhunt that led to the death of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and the arrest of his younger brother, Dzhokhar.

Florida state prosecutor Jeffrey Ashton, the only independent investigator looking at the series of events that ended in Todashev’s death, said on Friday that he has not made a decision about what actions he’ll take upon release of a long-awaited report on the shooting, expected Monday.

In part because the FBI rarely releases its internal investigations to local authorities, there were conflicting reports about what happened, including a statement that Todashev tried to kill the agent with a samurai sword. Available police reports suggest the agent was attacked and was injured before shooting Todashev. The most-cited official explanation is that Todashev knocked the agent down and then attacked him with some kind of pole before being shot.

The unidentified FBI agent who shot Todashev was part of a team investigating the Tsarnaev brothers, particularly the connection between Tamerlan and a triple homicide in 2011. Todashev was reportedly about to sign a confession to his role in those murders when he attacked the FBI agent. A mixed-martial arts fighter, Todashev had been arrested for road rage in the past, and had beaten another man over a parking space just a week before he was killed.

The incident happened during an interview with Todashev, formerly of Massachusetts, at his apartment in Orlando, Fla.

Todashev’s father, Abdulbaki Todashev, has questioned the government’s version of events. He released an autopsy photo of his son that he claims implicated foul play by the FBI, fueling conspiracy theories that Todashev was executed.

“If it is really true [that the FBI agent has been cleared], I will be horrified,” Mr. Todashev told the Boston Globe. “It will be terrible, because everything is self-evident here.”

Having an FBI agent cleared without a factual explanation of the death will certainly play into criticisms from civil libertarians that federal law enforcers are too often effectively above the law. 

The New York Times found that FBI agents have shot and killed 70 “subjects” and wounded another 80 since 1993, and every single shooting has been deemed justified.

The FBI will point to a number of internal probes as proof that its agents handled the ordeal professionally, and with proper force. “We have an effective, time-tested process for addressing [shootings involving agents] internally,” the FBI said in a press release shortly after Todashev’s death.

Some experts suggest Monday’s independent report won’t satisfy everyone, including those calling for a congressional investigation into the Todashev’s death.

“The whole thing is very odd from the beginning,” defense attorney Harvey Silverglate told the Boston Globe. “The bottom line is I didn’t expect the Florida prosecutor to say much because I didn’t expect him to learn much. What kind of power does he have to force the FBI or the [Department of Justice] to open up its records? You know the answer to that? Zero.”

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.