Friday 31 May 2013
It has been weeks since an FBI agent fired the seven deadly shots that made her a widow at the age of 24, but Reniya Manukyan is still waiting to learn the truth about the final moments of her husband's life.
The shooting of Ibragim Todashev in his Florida apartment made headlines because of the Chechen national's reported friendship with the Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his alleged involvement in a grisly triple murder in Massachusetts in 2011.
Todashev's grieving wife, however, says it is the FBI's refusal to answer any direct questions about the manner of her husband's death that is causing her the most frustration.
And she fears that the mystery might never be solved unless an independent inquiry, which she is calling for with the support of the Council on American-Islamic Relations advocacy group, is held.
"It feels just like a movie right now, all this FBI," she said. "It looks like they're not even sure of what happened that night. That's why they keep changing the story, that he had a knife, he tried to reach a gun, he had a sword in the house.
"They kept changing and we hadn't said anything before they came out with all these different versions. They might change it again, so now they might say he had an AK-47. I just don't understand why you would shoot someone who was unarmed."
On the record, at least, the FBI is saying little. One official statement referred only to "a violent confrontation initiated by the individual" while another promised a thorough investigation that would be "conducted as expeditiously as possible under the circumstances."
The mystery comes from what has been told to the media, and more recently the CAIR, under condition of anonymity by sources close to the investigation.
At first, Todashev, 27, was said to have "flipped out" after five hours of questioning by FBI agents and officers from Massachusetts state police over his links to Tsarnaev and lunged at them with a knife.
Another source said he overturned a table as he was trying to get an officer's gun while other reports suggest that he was reaching for a ceremonial sword that he kept in his apartment.
But at a press conference in Orlando on Wednesday, Hassan Shibly, executive director of the Florida chapter of the CAIR, claimed his group's "well-placed" contacts confirmed that Todashev had no weapon, yet was shot seven times, once in the head. It was also claimed that only Todashev and the FBI agent were still in the room when the shots were fired.
"It's an uphill battle sometimes working with the FBI because the only person who was there that can negate their version of events was killed," Shibly told the Guardian.
"But I have full confidence in the system. We are filing a formal complaint with the Department of Justice as well as the state attorney's office and several other agencies demanding an impartial, independent investigation."
The CAIR, he said, was also conducting its own investigation and interviewing Todashev's friends and family members.
"It's a long process, we've only just started and we have a long road ahead, but we will persevere until all our questions are answered and until we have the guarantee that better procedures will be implemented and constitutional rights protected so such an occurrence is never repeated and no-one has to go through what Reni and Ibragim's friends and family had to go through last week."
Manukyan, a hotel housekeeping manager from Russia who married Todashev in a ceremony at a Boston mosque in July 2010, said he had grown increasingly weary of constant questioning by the FBI, which began shortly after the April 15 bombing that killed three and injured more than 260.
"He was just getting tired of it because every single interview would ask him the same questions all over again and he would just say, 'I don't have anything else to tell you.' They would keep calling him, and tell him to come to the office, and they'd ask the same questions about the bombing and Tsarnaev," she said.
She said that on the night he was killed, FBI agents were also at her apartment in Atlanta and at the house of her mother, a US soldier on active duty, in Savannah, Georgia, for simultaneous interviews.
"All the questions were whether I knew Tsarnaev, or his wife, or about his brother and the bombing," she said.
"They came at 7.30pm and said everyone was interviewing at the same time. They were with me for a couple of hours and left a little after 9pm. I called my husband right away, he did not answer. I texted him, he did not respond to me."
She said she was asked specifically about her husband's relationship with Tsarnaev, who was shot and killed by police four days after the bombing. The two men knew each other, she said, because of their shared passion for mixed martial arts.
"They were never friends. They just attended the same gym and they happened to be from the same region of Chechnya," she said.
"It's a small community. Here in the US everyone knows each other. They had each other's number in the phone book but they rarely talked. A few weeks before the bombing my husband had knee surgery and Tamerlan called to ask how he was. Before that they never spoke for a year."
One subject that never came up, she said, was an unsolved triple murder in Waltham, Massachusetts, from September 2011 in which a close friend of Tsarnaev was a victim. Reports last week said that just before he was killed Todashev was about to sign a confession to the drugs-related crime, in which the dead men were found with their throats cut, but his wife said she had documents proving he was with her in Atlanta at the time.
Manukyan said she last saw her husband on May 9 in Atlanta when he came to tell her he was about to fly back to Chechnya to visit his parents, a trip he later cancelled when the FBI began questioning him. She said they had lived apart since November, but they were "in touch 24/7" using their mobile phones or on Skype.
"We were back and forth, we'd get in a small argument, we'd separate for a couple of days, he'd go to a hotel or something, just little things," she said.
"We'd just give each other time to breathe, to give each other a little break.
"He was a great husband, he was fair to me, he was honest and he was a very calm person, nothing violent. He's a fighter but there was never any violence towards anyone outside of the ring."
She said it was difficult to accept her husband was dead. "It was hard for the first three days. I didn't eat, I didn't sleep. I can't believe this really happened," she said.
"Everything right now is in God's hands. I hope we will get to the truth and people will see what happened, and that procedures will be followed and this won't happen to anyone ever again."