A pair of bag-carrying spectators at the Boston Marathon who were identified on the cover of the New York Post as possible suspects in the wake of the bombings have filed a defamation lawsuit against the paper, the Boston Globe reports.
A surveillance photo of Salaheddin Barhoum, a teenage student at Revere High School, and Yassine Zaimi, 24, appeared on the Post's front page on April 18 under the headline "Bag Men," hours before the FBI released photographs of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the brothers suspected of carrying out the April 15 terror attack.
The lawsuit, filed in Suffolk Superior Court on Wednesday, accuses the News Corp.-owned tabloid of "libel, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and invasion of privacy," reports the Globe. The pair are seeking unspecified damages.
“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 complaint reads.
When the photo landed on the cover of the Post, Zaimi was called into his boss' office, where the office manager showed him a copy of the paper.
“He immediately started shaking, his mouth went dry, and he felt as though he was having a panic attack,” the complaint said.
When Barhoum was shown the paper, he "began to shake and sweat, and felt dizzy and nauseous.”
"It's the worst feeling that I can possibly feel," Barhoum told ABC News on April 18.
Barhoum, a track athlete, said he wanted to run the marathon but couldn't, so he decided to watch the April 15 race instead.
The day before the Post cover came out, photos of Barhoum and Zaimi were circulated by online message boards in the frenzy to help the FBI identify the bombing suspects. Friends alerted them to the cyberhunt, and they decided to go to police to clear their names. "Authorities questioned both men, then told them they were not suspects," the Globe said.
According to ABC News, federal authorities did pass "around images of Barhoum, attempting to learn more information about him." But it's unclear whether that was before or after the Post ran with the story.
The paper was widely criticized for putting out an erroneous all points bulletin, but Post editor Col Allan was unapologetic.
"We stand by our story," Allan said in a statement. "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."
The Post subsequently published a separate online story reporting that Barhoum and his friend had been cleared: "The two men whose photos were being circulated internally among police have been cleared as authorities determined that neither man had any role in the Boston Marathon bombings."
El Houssein Barhoum, Salah's father, told the Washington Post last month that his family was considering a lawsuit.
“We were just scared to go outside,” he said.