A suspect in three unsolved murders in Waltham, Mass., who had ties to the Boston Marathon bombers and was killed by FBI agents while being questioned in Florida first came to the U.S. from Chechnya on a visa issued by a foreign-exchange organization in Portland, according U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.
Collins, R-Maine, told the Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee at a hearing this month that the Portland-based Council on International Education Exchange issued a J-1 work-study visa to murder suspect Ibragim Todashev in 2008.
She said the council quickly revoked Todashev’s visa when he failed to comply with the rules, but he was later granted political asylum by federal authorities and then a green card in Massachusetts.
Evaluation of requests for asylum and the issuance of green cards are the responsibility of the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, a division of the Department of Homeland Security. DHS did not respond to an email asking how it evaluates asylum and green card requests.
During an appearance by Attorney General Eric Holder before the subcommittee, of which she is a member, Collins said she found it “very troubling” that Todashev was allowed to remain in the U.S. for years after his visa was revoked.
“This shocked the entity in Maine that reported him (for) being out of compliance with the visa years ago,” she said.
Collins added that the incident exposes serious flaws in the way asylum and immigration cases are adjudicated.
“There’s a real problem with sharing information, and with the system,” she said.
Brenda Majeski of CIEE declined to answer questions Friday about why the organization granted a J-1 visa to Todashev, what his work in the U.S. entailed or why the visa was later revoked.
“This is a federal case,” Majeski said via email. “As such, no information has been authorized or issued by CIEE.”
Founded in 1947, CIEE oversees several programs that allow foreign students and workers to travel to the U.S. to study, teach, or work as interns, camp counselors or in other jobs. The organization’s stated mission is to facilitate travel by U.S. students to study in Europe and bring foreign students to the U.S. to promote “peaceful coexistence and respect between nations through student and teacher exchange programs.” Its board of directors includes leaders from corporations and universities around the country.
According to the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program website, there have been about 7,300 participants in the J-1 visa program in Maine since the program was established in 1961.
Collins said during the hearing that CIEE performed its job correctly in Todashev’s case, revoking his visa as soon as he violated the rules and ordering him to leave the country immediately. She could not be reached for further comment on Friday.
Todashev, 27, was killed in Orlando, Fla., in May while FBI agents and Massachusetts state troopers questioned him about his friendship with suspected Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
Officials originally said Todashev, a mixed martial-arts fighter, had lunged at an agent with a knife while he was being questioned. They later said he had flipped over a table, injuring an FBI agent, then grabbed a broom or mop and charged toward a Massachusetts state trooper with intent to impale him.
The FBI agent who shot Todashev multiple times was later cleared of all wrongdoing.
An autopsy showed Todashev was shot once in the head and six times in the torso.
His family has raised doubts about the account provided by law enforcement, saying that Todashev was recovering from knee surgery and limping at the time he was killed. His father, Abdul-Baki Todashev, who lives in Russia, has accused the FBI of a cover-up.
But the Florida Attorney General’s Office has said that Todashev appeared to have recovered from the surgery, based on a video taken by FBI agents while they were following him in the weeks prior to the shooting. The FBI video shows Todashev beating up two men in a dispute over a parking spot at an Orlando shopping center.
Federal prosecutors have said in court filings that Todashev named Tsarnaev as a participant in an earlier triple homicide in Waltham, Mass., on Sept. 11, 2011. In that case, three men were found in an apartment with their necks slit and their bodies reportedly covered with marijuana. One of the victims was a boxer and friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
The filings were made in the case against Tsarnaev’s brother, surviving bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev died in a shootout with police in Watertown, Mass., after he and his younger brother were named suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings. The bombings and ensuing manhunt killed three people at the Boston Marathon and a police officer at MIT, who was allegedly shot by the brothers. The bombs that the brothers allegedly set injured more than 250 people.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev awaits trial on 30 federal charges and faces the death penalty. He also faces state charges in the killing of the MIT police officer.
J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or: