FROM THE beginning, FBI officials’ attempts to explain why an agent shot Ibragim Todashev to death in his Orlando apartment raised more questions than they answered. And now that law enforcement sources have backed off the suggestion that Todashev lunged at the agent with a knife, the FBI and Massachusetts state police, who may also have been present in the apartment at the time of the shooting, must explain the incident openly and fully.
Todashev’s death dealt a setback to efforts to solve a triple murder in Waltham on Sept. 11, 2011 — a case in which the victims were friends of now-deceased Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Todashev, a 27-year-old martial-arts fighter who lived for some time in the Boston area, was shot May 22 while being questioned about the Waltham case by the FBI agent and, by some accounts, two Massachusetts state troopers. Afterward, the FBI maintained in a statement that Todashev had started a “violent confrontation”; unnamed law enforcement sources said that he had overturned a table and attacked the bureau’s agent with a blade.
That account never felt complete. Todashev’s criminal record suggesteda history of violent, unpredictable behavior, making it all the more surprising that law-enforcement officers would interrogate Todashev in his apartment without making sure he was in no position to harm them. It also seemed surprising that a suspect who, according to other reports, was in the process of confessing to a triple murder — and implicating Tsarnaev in it — would suddenly lunge at officers with a weapon. This week, though, The Washington Post and several TV news organizations reported that Todashev was unarmed. Later, a senior law enforcement official told The New York Times that Todashev ran at the agent with a metal pole, or perhaps a broomstick, after knocking him to the ground with a table.
These mutually contradictory accounts call out for clarification. The public deserves an official explanation of the incident, because the death of Todashev removes a key witness who could shed light on Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s actions in the years leading up to the Marathon bombings. It also has implications for America’s image abroad, where Todashev’s father has been arguing from Russia that FBI agents deliberately targeted his son. Those claims may seem ridiculous on their face, but the lack of a fuller statement from the FBI allows such insinuations to fester, especially among those who may be disposed to question US motives.
The shifting reports of what happened in Florida make a public accounting all the more necessary.