One Revere High School sophomore track athlete has filed a lawsuit in Suffolk Superior Court against the New York Post for publishing a story on April 18th that falsely identified him and a friend as possibly being the Boston Marathon Bombers.
Salah Barhoum, 16, of Beachmont (via his father Houssein Barhoum) and Malden resident Yassine Zaimi, 24, filed a six-count suit on Thursday in Boston calling for a jury trial due to the erroneous Post story that identified the two avid runners as potential suspects in the bombing. The suit, filed by Boston Attorney Max Stern, calls for damages to be awarded, but no amount was specified.
The New York Post is controlled by NYP Holdings Inc. – a company owned by Rupert Murdoch.
The story has been widely circulated – especially in Revere – and the entire community lit up on April 18th when the soft-spoken RHS athlete showed up on the front page of the Post with the headline ‘Bag Men’ and ‘Feds seek this duo pictured at Boston Marathon.’
“At the time he found out about the story, he was completely shocked, shocked at having been identified as Public Enemy #1 to the world,” said Attorney Stern. “He and his family were very afraid. It was totally inappropriate. You cannot say anything more inappropriate than what the New York Post said.”
In the complaint, it is alleged that Barhoum and Zaimi had travelled to the Boston Marathon to see the elite runners cross the finish line – both being avid runners themselves. Both watched the race and left by 12:45 p.m.
The bombs did not detonate, however, until 2:49 p.m. – more than two hours later.
“The plaintiffs were not suspects and were not being sought by law enforcement,” read the complaint. “The Post had no basis whatsoever to suggest that they were, especially in light of a warning on Wednesday to news media by federal authorities, to exercise caution in reporting about this very matter. In fact, law enforcement authorities had then focused their investigation on two suspects who were not the plaintiffs.”
The complaint suggests that the entire situation was born through Internet sleuths, who capitalized on a public call by law enforcement for photos taken at the Marathon.
When people began submitting photos by the hundreds to police, several of those photos of the crowds at the Marathon began circulating on the Internet – including sites such as ‘4Chan’ or ‘Reddit.’ Those sites set out to get to the bottom of the bombing and carefully scanned hundreds of crowd shots for anyone carrying a bag who looked suspicious.
That’s how Barhoum and Zaimi got on the radar screen.
Both were in the crowd earlier in the day and both were carrying backpacks full of running gear. That was compounded by the fact that word spread about authorities looking into the identity of two men at the Marathon – men who turned out to be Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. However, several news organizations began trying to up the competition, the complaint alleges, by figuring out who the two men were before the public announcement.
That led law enforcement officials to put out a warning against inaccurate press reports.
“Since these stories often have unintended consequences, we ask the media, particularly at this early stage of the investigation, to exercise caution and attempt to verify information through appropriate official channels before reporting,” read that April 17th release from the FBI.
Nevertheless, Barhoum ended up on the next day’s New York Post front page – along with a story alleging that authorities were looking for Barhoum and Zaimi.
According to the complaint, both men had learned the day before about the Internet websites with their photographs prominently displayed.
Barhoum voluntarily went to the East Boston Police Station to present himself for questioning. After a brief phone call with federal authorities, police told Barhoum he was free and clear.
Zaimi, at the same time, went to the Malden Police Station. FBI agents questioned him for quite some time and were perfectly satisfied with his answers – telling him he had nothing to worry about.
That all changed the very next day.
Barhoum had no idea about being on the cover of the Post. He even ran in a track meet that morning for the RHS outdoor track team.
However, when he returned home to Beachmont, he found a media circus.
“Entering his home, he encountered a large crowd of reporters, from various news media, including the New York Post, who arrived to follow up on the Post story,” read the complaint. “Although the plaintiff had not been identified by name in the Post story, the various media organizations had been able to identify the plaintiff and locate his residence. There were numerous still cameras and several TV cameras, which were being used to film inside the home. Barhoum observed reporters and other media members interrogating his parents with questions about their son, including questions about him being a Marathon bombing suspect and being sought by law enforcement authorities. The media then turned to Salah and began asking him questions as well, including questions about his being a Marathon bombing suspect and being sought by law enforcement authorities. One of the media members showed him an image of the front page of defendant New York Post’s newspaper, which had been published earlier that morning. Seeing the publication for the first time, plaintiff Barhoum became terrified, began to shake and sweat, and felt dizzy and nauseous.”
Zaimi had been made aware of the story by superiors and co-workers at his job – as well as strangers riding the MBTA who recognized him.
Both men and their families – all immigrants from Morocco and now legal permanent residents – suffered severe emotional distress and were worried for their lives.
Barhoum, Stern said, was even afraid to return to school for fear someone might hurt him – not knowing he wasn’t a bombing suspect.
The Post has not officially responded to the lawsuit and has stuck by its statement made in April after the story was proven false.
“The image was emailed to law enforcement agencies yesterday afternoon seeking information about these men, as our story reported. We did not identify them as suspects,” New York Post editor-in-chief Col Allan’s statement said in April.
Stern alleged in the complaint that law enforcement at no time circulated the photos.
The suit claims three counts of defamation, two counts of invasion of privacy and one count of reckless infliction of emotional distress.
Barhoum has returned to RHS, and has resumed his regular schooling.