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06/06/2013

Boston Marathon 'bag men' sue New York Post for libel, invasion of privacy

Screen shot 2013-06-06 at 11.01.49 AM
(Image of Yassine Zaimi and Salaheddin Barhoum on NYPost.com)

 Yassine Zaimi arrived in the U.S. four years ago from Morocco with a dream of pursuing his education and joining a running club.

On the day of the Boston Marathon, Zaimi and his friend Salaheddin Barhoum made their way to the marathon finish line. They had believed the finish line was actually the starting line, and after talking with a few Kenyans and Ethiopian fans who were there to cheer on their countrymen, Zaimi and Barhoum left -- two hours before the bombs exploded.

Three days later, with authorities conducting one of the largest investigations in U.S. history, the New York Post dropped a figurative bombshell on the immigrants. It ran a photo of Zaimi and Barhoum on its front page under the headline, "Bag Men."

Zaimi and Barhoum would subsequently be cleared by investigators, but two months on, they say their lives have been changed forever -- and they want the Post to pay for it.

Zaimi and Barhoum have filed a lawsuit against the Post in Suffolk Superior Court, the Boston Globe reports.

In the complaint, lawyers for Barhoum, a 16-year-old Revere High School student, and Zaimi, a part-time college student from Malden, allege the New York Post has libelled them inflicted emotional distress and invaded their privacy. They are seeking damages, including unspecified monetary compensation.

“The front page would lead a reasonable reader to believe that plaintiffs had bombs in their bags, that they were involved in causing the Boston Marathon bombing,"  the court complaint says, according to The Globe. The lawsuit asserts the newspaper subjected the friends to “scorn, hatred, ridicule, or contempt in the minds of a considerable and respectable segment of the community.”

The  Post declined to comment to The Globe on Wednesday, but editor Col Allan defended the coverage in April. He told the Associated Press that his paper accurately reported that the image of Zaimi and Barhoum was emailed to law enforcement officials seeking information about the men. “We did not identify them as suspects,” Allan said at the time.

On April 17, two nights after the bombing, friends told  Zaimi and Barhoum that their photos were online, their lawyers say. They went to police, were questioned, and were told they were not suspects.

Even so, lawyers said the Post's coverage implied Zaimi and Barhoum were suspects.

“They’re saying these are the guys with the bombs in the bag,” William Barrett, one of Zaimi’s lawyers, told The Globe.

The Boston Marathon bombings marked a sour week for news organizations. Perhaps the low point was when CNN was forced to backtrack on an April 17 report from reporter John King that authorities had a "dark-skinned male" in custody who was a suspect. Both Fox News and the Associated Press confirmed CNN's wrong report.

Rick Westhead is a foreign affairs writer at the Star. He was based in India as the Star’s South Asia bureau chief from 2008 until 2011 and reports on international aid and development. Follow him on Twitter @rwesthead

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