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Pair sue newspaper over 'Bag Men' portrayal after Boston bombings

By Marina Carver, CNN
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Sun June 9, 2013
The New York Post cover identifying
The New York Post cover identifying "Bag Men" in Boston Bombings.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Boston bombing suspects turned out to be different
  • "The New York Post accused our clients of being the men with the bombs," lawyer says
  • Both file defamation lawsuit against the New York Post
  • Newspaper says it stands by its story

(CNN) -- Two men featured on the cover of the New York Post following the Boston bombing under the headline, "Bag Men," are suing the newspaper, according to court papers.

Lawyers for Salaheddin Barhoum, 16, and Yassine Zaimi, 24, took aim at the New York Post at a news conference Thursday.

"The New York Post accused our clients of being the men with the bombs in their bags and that is libel," said C. William Barrett, Zaimi's lawyer.

Both filed a defamation lawsuit against the New York Post on Wednesday over photographs and articles published three days after the Boston bombing that made it appear that FBI agents were looking for them.

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The picture on the front page of the April 18 edition of the New York Post shows the two men standing next to each other. One carried a backpack and wore a hat, the other had a gym bag over his shoulder.

According to the complaint filed in Suffolk Superior Court in Massachusetts, "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."

In the complaint, lawyers for the plaintiffs accuse the New York Post of libel, negligent infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy. The plaintiffs are seeking damages, including unspecified monetary compensation.

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As a result of the New York Post's actions, the plaintiffs were "put in fear for their lives and suffered harm, including but not limited to damage to their reputations and ongoing extreme emotional distress," according to the complaint.

The New York Post referred CNN to its April 18 statement from Editor-in-Chief Col Allan: "We stand by our story. The image was e-mailed to law enforcement agencies yesterday afternoon seeking information about these men, as our story reported. We did not identify them as suspects."

Following the bombing, federal authorities issued a release to news media to exercise caution when reporting information about the investigation and to go through the appropriate official channels to verify developments.

Barhoum is a high school sophomore and Zaimi works full time while attending night school. The lawsuit states that both are lawful permanent residents of the United States.

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Being avid runners, the friends went to the finish line to watch the elite runners complete the Boston Marathon. They carried their own running gear in their backpacks, according to the lawsuit.

Photos of the plaintiffs started to circulate on several social media sites in the days following the bombing. Upon learning this, they both voluntarily went to the police. Authorities questioned both men, told then they were not suspects, and sent them home, the lawsuit says.

The next day, their picture appeared on the New York Post's front page with the sub headline "Feds seek this duo pictured at Boston Marathon." Inside the newspaper were two other pictures, one with their faces circled.

Zaimi went to work unaware, and was approached by his office manager who told him about the Post's front page.

"He immediately started shaking, his mouth went dry, and he felt as though he was having a panic attack," the lawsuit says.

While on his way home from work, the complaint says Zaimi was identified by a man waiting next to him at the train station.

Barhoum was on school vacation and participating in a track meet, unaware of the New York Post's coverage, according to the filing.

When he returned home, there was a large crowd of reporters outside his home asking him questions him about being a marathon bombing suspect. One of members of the media showed him the front page and according to the complaint, he "became terrified, began to shake and sweat, and felt dizzy and nauseous."

Later that same day, authorities released photographs of Boston bombing suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

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