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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A Chechen immigrant shot to death in Florida after an altercation with an FBI agent implicated himself in a triple slaying that officials believe may have been connected to Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, authorities said.
Ibragim Todashev’s Chechen roots and mixed martial arts background mirror that of Tsarnaev, the 26-year-old Boston bombing suspect killed in a shootout with police days after the April 15 terrorist attack. The two also had lived in the Boston area.
Todashev, a 27-year-old mixed martial arts fighter, was fatally shot early Wednesday at his Orlando home during a meeting with the agent and two Massachusetts state troopers, authorities said. The agent was taken to a hospital with injuries that were not life-threatening.
Three law enforcement officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said initially that Todashev had lunged at the FBI agent with a knife. However, two of those officials said later in the day it was no longer clear what had happened. The third official had not received any new information.
The FBI gave no details on why it was interested in Todashev except to say that he was being questioned as part of the Boston investigation. However, two officials briefed on the investigation said he had implicated himself as having been involved in the 2011 triple-slaying in a Boston suburb that authorities believe may have been connected to Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release details of the investigation.
Todashev resided in nearby Watertown, Mass., last year, public records show. His father, Abdul-Baki Todashev, said Todashev was in college when about five or six years ago when he got an opportunity to go to the United States to study English. He said he later agreed to his son’s request to remain in the U.S. “because it seemed like the safest country.”
Several of Todashev’s former roommates who were questioned by the FBI said he knew Tamerlan Tsarnaev, an aspiring boxer, from mixed martial arts fighting in Boston and that the FBI was asking about him.
Muslin Chapkhanov, a former roommate, said Todashev “was living in Boston and I think he trained with” Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
Tsarnaev’s younger brother, Dzhokhar, survived the shootout with police and is now charged with carrying out the attack that killed three people and wounded more than 260 in downtown Boston. He is also charged in the slaying of an MIT police officer days later.
Todashev’s father said his son gave up martial arts because of an injury and later held a number of jobs, including as a driver at a retirement home, before moving to Florida within the past year. Todashev had lived on and off with other Chechens in the Orlando suburb of Kissimmee and had moved to Orlando more recently, friends said.
His father said his son had planned to come to Chechnya this week to visit his extended family, but was asked by the FBI to delay his trip.
Investigators have been trying to establish the scope of the plot. In addition, authorities in Massachusetts said they would investigate whether Tamerlan Tsarnaev had any connection to the unsolved 2011 deaths in the Boston suburb of Waltham, where three men were found in an apartment, their throats slit and marijuana sprinkled over their bodies. One of the victims was a boxer and a friend of Tsarnaev’s.
While he was being interviewed, Todashev made statements implicating himself in the 2011 Waltham slayings, two officials briefed on the investigation said. Neither official knew whether Todashev had also implicated Tamerlan Tsarnaev in the killings. The two, a federal law enforcement official and a Massachusetts state official, spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release details of the investigation.
Neither official was sure of the extent of Todashev’s supposed involvement.
Former roommate Khusen Taramov said the FBI was asking questions about a conversation Todashev had with the older bombing suspect a month before the Boston Marathon attack.
The ex-roommate said Todashev shared the substance of his previous conversations with investigators with him and that he was completely forthcoming. That’s why he was surprised that Wednesday’s interview ended the way it did.
“He told them everything,” Taramov said. “He told everything he knew. … I don’t know why that (the shooting) happened. It’s crazy.”
But Taramov also said Todashev was afraid before Wednesday’s interview.
“That’s what he asked me before he pretty much died,” Taramov said. “He asked me, ‘If something happens can you go out and tell all the truth, what exactly happened.'”
Like Todashev, the Tsarnaev brothers have roots in the turbulent Russian regions of Dagestan and Chechnya, which have become recruiting grounds for Islamic extremists. Investigators have said the brothers carried out the Boston bombing in retaliation for the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
An FBI team was dispatched from Washington to review the shooting, standard procedure in such cases.
Police records suggest Todashev had a hot temper. He was arrested this month on a charge of aggravated battery after getting into a fight over a parking spot with a father and son at an Orlando shopping mall. The son was hospitalized with a split lip and several teeth knocked out, according to a sheriff’s report. Todashev claimed self-defense.
“By his own admission Todashev was recently a former mixed martial arts fighter,” the arresting deputy said in his report. “This skill puts his fighting ability way above that of a normal person.”
Todashev was released on $3,500 bail after his May 4 arrest. His attorney, Alain Rivas, didn’t respond to a call for comment Wednesday.
Todashev was also arrested by Boston police in 2010 after a road rage encounter. Witnesses told police that he argued with two other drivers and cut them off with his vehicle. According to a police report, he yelled, “You say something about my mother, I will kill you.”
Todashev’s said he was worried that with his son was dead, the FBI could now pin any crime on him.
“Out of fear of the lawlessness in Chechnya, I sent him to the U.S., because it seemed like the safest country at the time,” he said. “Now I’m thinking about how to bring home his body. As it turns out, I sent him to his death.”
Associated Press writer Steve LeBlanc and AP Legal Affairs Writer Denise Lavoie in Boston; Pete Yost in Washington; Musa Sadulayev in Grozny, Russia; and Mike Schneider and Tony Winton in Orlando contributed to this report.