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Lawyers clash over emails in Boston ‘Bag Men’ lawsuit

Lawyers for two Massachusetts residents and for the newspaper that called them “Bag Men” after the Boston Marathon bombing are clashing over the significance of emails that circulated among law enforcement in the chaotic days after the attack.

Both sides say newly released emails, among documents unsealed earlier this month by the Boston judge presiding over the case, support their competing arguments. Lawyers for the men said the emails strengthened their argument that the New York Post was reckless, while the newspaper’s legal team said they bolstered its contention that the story was, at the time of publication, accurate.

The Post’s front page April 18, 2013 – three days after the bombing – had a photograph of the two young Moroccan immigrants, one a high school student, standing near the finish line with the headline “Bag Men” and sub-headline “Feds seek these two pictured at Boston Marathon.”

The two, Salaheddin Barhoum and Yassine Zaimi, were never linked to the investigation and said the story damaged their reputations and caused emotional distress. They sued the newspaper in June 2013.

The newspaper has stressed that it never called the men, who weren’t named in the story, suspects. It has previously referenced emails that circulated April 17, 2013, including one from an FBI agent that stated the photographs were being distributed in an “attempt to identify the individuals highlighted therein.”

Among the unsealed law enforcement emails was one with the words “BOLO,” short for “be on the lookout,” and “Boston Marathon Bombing Terrorist Suspects.”

“Discovery, in other words, has shown that the Post’s report was accurate: Law-enforcement authorities were looking for Messrs. Barhoum and Zaimi, did want to identify them, and – unlike the Post – actually labeled them as . . . suspects,” the lawyers wrote in a court filing.

But attorneys for Barhoum, a Revere High School student, and Zaimi responded in another court filing that some of the same email chains threw cold water on the notion that the two were being sought. One email, appearing to have been sent by a Department of Homeland Security agent, said the men shown in the picture were “not of interest” and that an original request for identification was based on “bogus intel.”

The emails were part of a “frenzied digital rumor mill” that one recipient at the time called a “circular reporting tornado that is sweeping the nation,” the lawyers wrote.

Attorneys have declined to comment publicly on the status of the case, which remains pending in Suffolk Superior Court. Judge Judith Fabricant denied a bid by the Post last March to dismiss the lawsuit.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is awaiting trial on charges that he and his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, set off two pressure cooker bombs that killed three people and wounded more than 260 others. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died in a shootout with the police four days after the bombing.

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