Saudi Man Investigated After Marathon Bombings Sues Glenn Beck for Defamation, Slander

In a court filing, Abdulrahman Alharbi claims the political commentator smeared his name.

A Boston man searched by authorities in the days following the Marathon bombings is suing a national media outlet and radio personality for defamation and slander after the network allegedly continued to implicate him as a possible suspect, even when he was cleared of any wrongdoing by federal investigators.

According to court documents, Abdulrahman Alharbi, a Saudi Arabian student who lives in Revere, became the focus of public speculation for a brief time during the search for those responsible for setting off two pressure cooker bombs on Boylston Street. Alharbi claims that political commentator Glenn Beck and the company that carries his show, The Blaze, smeared his name in the media even after Alharbi was no longer the subject of the investigation.

“On and after April 15, Beck broadcast repeated statements distributed and published to others…identifying Alharbi as an active participant in the crimes that were committed in Boston,” Alharbi’s lawyer, Peter Haley, wrote in a six-page filing dated March 28 in U.S. District Court of Massachusetts. “Beck falsely accused Alharbi of being a criminal who had funded the attacks that took place at the Boston Marathon…the statements made by Beck were false.”

The court document goes on to say that because of Beck’s statements made on national media platforms, which later were syndicated to other networks, Alharbi’s reputation has been “substantially and severely” damaged. Alharbi’s lawyer said his client has been inundated with hateful messages online accusing him of being a “murderer” and “child killer,” as well as a terrorist.

Beck’s claims were based on initial news reports that surfaced almost immediately after the bombings last year. As reports poured in, and media outlets grasped at whatever leads they deemed viable or suspicious in nature, Alharbi’s name began to circulate.

Federal authorities questioned Alharbi, who was injured when the bombs went off near the finish line, as he walked to meet friends for lunch, while he lay in his hospital bed with minor injuries sustained in the attack. With permission from Alharbi investigators raided his apartment in Revere to conduct a search. According to The Islamic Monthly, who interviewed Alharbi one month after he was first implicated as a possible suspect, “the media discovered his full address and publicized it while filming the FBI search of his apartment. By early Tuesday, reports of his full name and photos from his Facebook account were circulated.”

He was later exonerated by The Washington Post, and authorities said he was merely a “witness,” but Alharbi told The Islamic Monthly he feared for his life after being pegged as a possible terrorist. “The responsible officials quickly concluded that Mr. Alharbi, other then being injured in the attacks, had no involvement in the attacks,” his lawyer said.

Although nothing turned up as a result of that search and Alharbi was later acquitted of any suspicions and outlets stopped focusing on Alharbi, according to the court documents Beck continued to apply pressure to federal investigators, blasting them for not detaining Alharbi for further questioning. “[Beck] repeatedly questioned the motives of federal officials in failing to pursue or detain Alharbi,” Haley wrote. “[He] repeatedly and falsely accused Mr. Alharbi of being a criminal who had funded the attacks that took place at the Boston marathon. Those statements were made widely and publicly. The statements were false and caused grave injury to the plaintiff.”

Alharbi is accusing Beck of one count of defamation, and one count of defamation with malice. He’s asking that the courts determine the amount of damages they think this alleged defamation caused as well covering the cost of attorney’s fees.

Boston reached out to Alharbi for comment, but did not immediately receive a reply.

This isn’t the first example of a lawsuit filed by people wrongly accused of being the alleged Marathon bombing suspects. Two Boston-area men who had bags on their backs were splashed on the front cover of the New York Post as the investigation and search for the bombers continued. Those men, labeled by the Post as “Bag Men,” sued the newspaper for libel. That case is still pending.

Complaint – 4837-8616-1945 v 1


Steve Annear Steve Annear, Digital Writer at Boston Magazine sannear@bostonmagazine.com