BOSTON – Two Massachusetts residents have sued the New York Post, saying the newspaper falsely portrayed them as suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings in part by featuring them on the front page under the headline "Bag Men."
The lawsuit said photographs and articles the Post published three days after the bombings made it appear that law enforcement officials suspected 16-year-old Salaheddin Barhoum and 24-year-old Yassine Zaimi as the attack's perpetrators, before the FBI publicly identified two brothers as suspects.
But the Post still stands by its story, and says it never identified them as suspects.
Lawyers for the two Moroccan plaintiffs said Thursday the friends had hoped to run the race that day as unofficial entrants, and had running gear in their bags.
The civil action said the Post's headline implied they had bombs in their bags and accuses the newspaper of libel, negligent infliction of emotional distress and privacy invasion. Filed Wednesday in Boston, the claim seeks unspecified monetary damages.
A Post spokeswoman referred questions about the lawsuit Thursday to a statement the newspaper's editor made in April.
"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 at the time.
A copy of the April 18 front page, which is included as a lawsuit exhibit, shows the publication also included a line in smaller print on its cover saying there was no direct evidence linking the two males to the crime but that authorities wanted to identify them.
But Barhoum's attorney Max Stern said Thursday that the plaintiffs, whose names the Post didn't use, were "collateral damage" in the newspaper's rush to scoop the competition.
The lawsuit said the photos came from one or more social media websites after users began discussion groups dedicated to finding the bombers by scouring finish line photos.
The claim said the plaintiffs saw their photos on the Internet in connection with the bombing and voluntarily went to local police departments before investigators told them early on April 18 they weren't suspects.
But that day, the Post hit the streets with them on the cover.
The lawsuit said Barhoum didn't know about the story until arriving home from a track meet, when a reporter showed it to him and he "became terrified, began to shake and sweat, and felt dizzy and nauseous."
The Revere High School sophomore previously told The Associated Press he was scared to go to school and thinks some people will always blame him for the bombings. His father told the AP in April that he moved his family to the United States five years ago and worried after the Post story that someone would shoot his son.
On Thursday, a neighbor of the Barhoum family called them kind people who mind their own business.
"If he's suing them, I think he should," Kay Krahmouni said. "Now everybody knows the poor guy ... They made a big deal and nothing was sure."
The plaintiffs' attorneys said both their clients are permanent residents of the United States. They are friends from a running club.
Zaimi, who lives in Malden, Mass., arrived from Morocco four years ago and works as a database clerk at a financial company while going to school part-time, according to his lawyers.
One said the man broke out in boils, has been unable to sleep or run, and has sought counseling after becoming depressed since the Post's story.